Young entrepreneurs grow  floral business in Duluth's Lincoln Park

Sarah Bjhork, left, and Ellie Just.

 

Ellie Just and Sarah Bjork describe their Flora North business as “a happy little botanical shop located in Duluth, Minnesota.” They specialize in nature inspired floral arrangements, often featuring Minnesota grown blooms. The two are embarking on a new phase of their floral journey by moving their shop from downtown Duluth to the Lincoln Park Craft District.

Just and Bjork put down their roots in the floral business in 2016 when they bought the long established Angela’ s Bella Floral located in downtown Duluth at 138 W. First St. The previous owner of 16 years, Angela Stocke, wanted to branch out to an entirely new venture in life/business coaching and was excited to sell the business to the two young women entrepreneurs. 

“Both Ellie and Sarah came to the shop as part-time and fulltime employees getting to know the flow of the business in a very hands on setting,” Stocke said. “They began as clerks and then moved into design, working at all aspects of the business. These women are at the same stage of life I was at when I began. Two owners mean more love, more care, more passion, more depth, more support and more momentum.”

Both women have looked to Stocke as an inspirational florist and business owner. “Angela taught me the technical element of design work,” Bjork said. “I started out as a sales clerk, and she began to train me in design techniques. It came very naturally to me and definitely filled the artistic part of myself that I could not previously figure out. She also taught me the practical side of owning a seasonal business, such as when to expect busy and slow times and she definitely taught me how to teach others. I am naturally more of a shy person and she taught me that sharing my passion for my work with others is very fulfilling.”

 Just noted that Stocke was also a mentor for the logistical side of the business. “Angela shared a lot of the logistics of bookkeeping, office work, etccetera. When we were transferring ownership, she took the time to sit down and explain the details of the behind the scenes of owning a business. This has helped me develop my own systems for operating and growing our business.”

The two have also consulted with UMD’s Center for Economic Development (CED). Bjork explained,  “We have been working with CED since day one. They have provided so many amazing resources to help us make these big decisions. such as a Profit Mastery class and making projections for the future.” 

“Mary Lundeen at the CED has literally been with us every step of the way,” Just added. “From connecting us to other local resources to paying the cost of education classes out of town, she’s always been there.” 

While understanding they had a powerful legacy from the strong reputation of Bella Flora, the two also wanted to indicate their new ownership with some rebranding, starting with the name. 

“We wanted to keep a portion of the original name and we felt like Flora fit our style better than Bella,” said Bjork. “We also wanted to reflect our love for our Northern Minnesota home, so Flora North seemed like a good fit.”

The two women complement each other as friends and business partners. According to Bjork, “I am kind of like the mad scientist floral designer, design team lead, flower ordering person, and e-mail answerer. Ellie is the office genius who splits her time between bookkeeping and employees, working in the shop, and she certainly does design, mostly weddings.” 

Just and Bjork have also increasingly created their own distinctive floral voice. “We don’t really make the same thing twice,” Just said. “We are constantly evolving with the seasons and trends, and we love creating unique color palettes. I feel like you can recognize our work by the mix of flowers, greenery and unique textural elements.”

As the two looked to the evolution of their one-of-a kind shop, they began discussing moving to a new building. Stocke had given them some advice on buying a building rather than renting, as soon as they were able to do that. After searching other locations, they decided to purchase a building in the new Lincoln Park Craft District.

“The Craft District is all their people,” Stocke said. “They are people who care about their space, creative types who love a beautiful environment and have the creative brain power to make, build, connect and design anything they want. I think that neighborhood is just getting started. I am thrilled that Sarah and Ellie have purchased a building, and I cannot wait to see what they do with it. The energy they will bring to the space will be palpable, like a little flower heartbeat.”

Just noted the transition to Lincoln Park seems like a natural decision for their business. “The community of businesses out there is absolutely amazing and they do so much to help each other,” she said. “Our creative business will fit in perfectly with the nearby businesses, as we already have a lot of the same customers. People love to make a day of it and visit the breweries, grab an ice cream, a coffee and do some shopping. We will offer a different shopping experience that is not currently offered in the area.”

“We will also host creative workshops, and we hope to collaborate with Duluth Folk School for some classes,” added Bjork. “People come to the Lincoln Park Craft District to feed their soul and we think our new industrial style plant-flower-gift-creative shop will be a perfect fit.”

Their new site at 1925 W. Superior St. was built in 1896 and the renovation has revealed some interesting architectural features including brick walls under many layers of sheetrock and plywood. The plan is to leave the rough, industrial style walls and add clean, polished finishings.  

The front half of the shop will be devoted to the storefront, with a section of that space housing the consultation area, a small office and a restroom. The back half will be mostly devoted to their workspace, and also includes a garage for storage and a spot for parking their delivery vehicle.

The pair is planning to design more permanent structures within the shop that will be updated seasonally, and they will have much higher ceilings for hanging displays. Customers can expect Flora North to have the old shop’s same eclectic mix of the clean and modern paired with the funky and vintage. 

“We want to have many layers for our customers to discover, to encourage people to stay and hang out with us,” Just said. “We have a few treasured comfy furniture pieces we will be incorporating to create a cozy homey vibe.” 

Flora North will open in Lincoln Park early in the new year.

Sheryl Jansen is a Duluth-based freelance writer.