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A flower shop for the Bucket List

MIDDLEBURY — Existential questions make us do funny things: Some buy candy-apple-red convertibles; others die their hair and head to Los Vegas. Carolee Ploof, did neither. Instead, she opened her own flower shop, Middlebury Floral and Gifts.
“At the end of the day,” Ploof asked herself six years ago, “what have I really accomplished?”
Well, a lot actually; let’s review:
Ploof graduated Champlain College in 1989 with a business degree. She took a job at Campus Flowers in Middlebury as their delivery driver and worked for them until she was pregnant with twin girls. A couple years after her daughters were born in 1994, Ploof earned her personal training certificate, as well as several other exercise class certificates. She took a bit of a hiatus to raise her three children ? her son was born in 1997. But it wasn’t long before Ploof took the role of program director at Middlebury Fitness. She worked at the gym for a couple years (she still teaches Friday morning spin classes there). Then the Middlebury native returned to flowers in the early 2000s when one of her co-workers from Campus Flowers (Sandy Burkholder) opened Blossom Basket on College Street.
But none of this was quite enough for Ploof ? who, in her free time, is an OCR (obstacle course race) junkie. You know… climbing ropes over mud pits, carrying buckets of rocks up mountains, flipping tractor tires across a field and scaling walls. She clearly has some pretty high standards for accomplishments.
Still, Ploof’s interest in the flower business was deep seated.
“My husband and I were interested in buying Campus Flowers,” Ploof said, but when her husband, Jim Ploof, was deployed to Operation Desert Storm in 1990, it put a hold on that plan. They also considered Blossom Basket, when Burkholder decided to sell, “but it just wasn’t the right time,” Ploof said.
It wasn’t until Dec. 23, 2010, that the time was right for Ploof to open her own shop; that’s when she quit working for other flower shops. A few short weeks later, she opened the doors of Middlebury Floral and Gifts in the little red schoolhouse on Route 7 South in January 2011.
“It’s been phenomenal,” she said. “A really great experience.”
Ploof fills her shop with trinkets, chocolates, soaps, dried and silk flower arrangements, jewelry and, of course, lots of cut flowers and plants.
“I’ve been doing this since 1998,” she said. “I’m passionate about it and I love what I do here… it makes me happy every time I come to work. How lucky am I?”
Of course Middlebury Floral and Gifts does flowers for sad and traumatic occasions as well as joyous ones, but Ploof said it’s always about trying to make people happy. “Very few people are sad about getting flowers,” she said.
During the growing season, Ploof sources flowers locally whenever she can; but winters are long and when not much is growing here in Vermont, she orders from wholesalers, who’s flowers come from all around the world.
It takes more than just pretty flowers though; arranging them is what counts. “Because I’ve done this for so long, I have a veteran staff who knows what people like,” said Ploof, who describes their style as “nature inspired.”
Dawn Daly of Middlebury is one the arrangers at the shop. Ploof and Daly go all the way back to the beginning ? the two met in ’89 at Campus Flowers. “I think about the aesthetics, how the flowers go together and what people want,” said Daly, who works from one of Ploof’s hand-scribbled order forms to arrange a vase of flowers.
Between standing orders, weddings and custom arrangements, flowers remain the primary business of the shop. But Ploof also carries cards, jewelry, paintings and other crafts made by locals. “When I first opened six years ago, it was a real eye opener how much creative energy there is out there,” she said. “And I thought I was creative!”
Claire L’Esperance joined Ploof about five years ago after a 10-year career arranging flowers for the Basin Harbor Club. L’Esperance, a resident of Proctor, is the mastermind behind all of the displays at the Middlebury shop. “I change the displays frequently,” she said. “Merchandise shouldn’t sit in the same place for too long; I like to move it around the shop.”
“Owning my own flower shop was definitely on my bucket list,” said Ploof. “And I did it. I didn’t want to look back and say I wish I could have…” But Ploof’s bucket list hasn’t gotten any shorter. “There are places to go and things I want to see,” she said, including more obstacle course training with her husband. “If your bucket list stops growing, you’re in trouble.”

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