With a recent wave of retail stores, restaurants and other businesses opening downtown, ones that have been around for decades seem few and far between. Le Gardia's Flowers and Gift Baskets, 500 S. Martin Luther King Blvd., is one business that has been in existence longer than most in its area, something in which its owner, Elizabeth Moten-Simon, takes pride.
"When I started all those years ago, the street stopped at Martin Luther King (Boulevard), and it didn't go through to the government center," Moten-Simon said. "For about eight or 10 years, it was that way, and there wasn't much traffic. We didn't really have a lot of customers, but the goal was to stay, and we've managed to stay all these years."
Moten-Simon opened the business in 1988 on Martin Luther King Boulevard near Alta Drive, using her maiden name as the store's moniker. The former schoolteacher spent three years making flower arrangements in her garage before committing to opening a full-time business. Though she enjoyed teaching, Moten- Simon said deciding to go into the floral business was indicative of her passion.
"I've always been creative, and for the first eight years of my life, I was always encouraged to use my hands," Moten- Simon said. "I started to pick flowers as a child, and as I grew older, I found a passion for flowers. When it came time to open this (business), I thought, 'This is my passion. I'm just going to go for it.' "
Moten-Simon dove into the business and took her family along for the journey. Her sister, daughter, son and husband helped with upkeep and financial and customer service aspects at the start of the venture.
Five years into opening Le Gardia's, however, Moten-Simon suffered a heart attack. Her daughter Tracey Walker kept the business running for two weeks, focusing on what she learned from her mother with floral arrangements.
"Everything I've learned comes from watching (my mom) over the years," Walker said. "When she had a heart attack, I knew how to (sell), but I had to learn how to make a bow ... It made me realize that I've learned a lot from her."
Moten-Simon didn't let the heart attack end her dream. She bounced back and continued running the shop, building a customer base that now includes generations of the same families and patrons who have been placing orders since Le Gardia's opened.
"The community I used to serve, those families in the Rancho Circle area, have relocated in the valley, but they keep coming back," Moten-Simon said. "I've done the prom (flowers) for some of their children and then their weddings. It's been generations of families I've had contact with, and I think that's why we've been able to maintain the business."
Moten-Simon said her customers are scattered throughout the valley, from the nearby hospitals to North Las Vegas. She focuses on selling a unique product, creating her own arrangements tailored specifically to the customer.
"I take the business seriously, and I take the customers seriously," Moten- Simon said. "I started my own business so I could have my freedom to be creative. I love the freedom of running my own business. I like people, and I'm a people person."
Moten-Simon said although numerous florist shops throughout the valley are no longer in business, Le Gardia's isn't going anywhere anytime soon. She plans to expand the wedding part of the business to include party favors and various supplies beyond flower bouquets.
Constantly seeking ways to improve and recognizing the work put into the business for 24 years, she said, are reasons why she believes Le Gardia's sees continued success.
"I feel very fortunate to have had this opportunity," Moten-Simon said. "I don't take anything for granted. It's up to me whether I succeed or fail, and 'fail' is not in my vocabulary. The business has caused a lot of stress, and I (often) work later than I would have in my other field, but it's still a freedom for me."
For more information on Le Gardia's, call 366-0026.
Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter Lisa Carter at email@example.com or 383-4686.