Michele Birkner, owner of Michele’s Floral Events & Decorative Accessories, credits her success to the influence of her parents. “My mother was creative and artistic, and my dad worked hard and loved nature,” she explains. Her grandparents were farmers and she has fond memories of harvesting vegetables, picking flowers, and sitting down to home-cooked meals. “It was farm-to-table before it became a trend,” she laughs. Her dream since she was ten was to be a florist. “I loved going out with my dad to collect things,” she recalls, “whether that was flowers, buckeyes, or morel mushrooms.” Her experiences growing up have shaped her business and are a source of unending inspiration.
The Science and Care of Handling Flowers
“Most people think a flower is a flower is a flower,” says Michele. “Put it in water and you’re good to go.” Nothing could be further from the truth. She buys the highest quality flowers from the renowned Dutch Flower Auction in Aalsmeer, The Netherlands. “They are shipped to Chicago and trucked here to Peoria,” she explains. Flowers are graded according to quality which then dictates wholesale prices. Michele estimates there are thousands of types of flowers traded and prices fluctuate every day based on availability, demand, weather, and other factors. “Planning is key,” says Michele, “as well as an understanding of how plants grow and bloom.” She calls it the “science and care of handling flowers” and her years of experience, 45 to be exact, mean customers can count on beautiful, unique, and long-lasting flowers. “It’s the one comment we hear most often.”
Tending to Flowers… and Customers
Michele can tell you how every flower in her cooler grows and how they should be cared for—and she can tell you similar details about many of her customers. “We share so many milestones with our customers,” she says, “some joyous, some bittersweet, and some painful.” Weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, graduations, and funerals are all part of the job. “It’s one of the myriad things I love about owning my own business,” says Michele. “I get to know people and feel like I’m a small part of their lives.” In fact, as we finished this interview, Michele was out the door delivering flowers to an elderly client and her husband and was planning to stay for tea. That is the niche that small businesses fill in the ever-expanding and automated commercial universe.
That Little Something Extra
Michele’s may be known for their fresh flowers, but if you visit any time of year, there is so much more. Of course, the holidays mean lots of sparkle, shine, and glitz, but you’ll find a wonderful selection of accessories and gifts every day. From candles, soaps, perfumes, and greeting cards to silk flowers, plants, and custom arrangements, Michele’s is perfect for last-minute gift-giving, too. They can also help design your wedding or special event, sharing their design and floral expertise. “We also do in-home decorating and consulting year-round,” says Michele, “not just during the holidays.” While most of their events are local, she has accepted commissions farther afield. “We did a wedding in Colorado on a 700-acre private ranch,” she says. “We used native plants that we collected on-site in many of our designs.”
A Few Extra Bits
Michele’s has been in the same location in Peoria Heights since 2006. “The business owners in the Heights are a wonderful group and the community is very supportive of all of us,” she says. Michele grew up in the area (Morton) and shares her downtime with her pit bull, Candy, and her beagle, Buckeye. Nature is still her venue to recharge. “It provides an unending source of inspiration,” she says. “I love nothing better than to go out and collect a variety of natural materials and create something brand new and beautiful.”
1225 E. Samuel Ave.
Peoria Heights, IL
M-F 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Sat 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.