Getting to Know the Heart of… Brooke Lawler
Courageous, colorful, and a believer in Karma, Brooke inherited her love of everything that blooms from her mom, while her passion for life is nourished by her ability to do what she loves and be who she is, every single day.
By: Annice Moses, Council for Inclusion and Community Member
My C+ typing skills cannot keep pace with the speed in which Brooke speaks. Her rapid-fire enthusiasm would undoubtedly challenge even the most seasoned stenographer. She is a whirlwind of passion and determination, and all her sentences feel electrified -- as though, when transcribed, each sentence should end with a cornucopia of exclamation points.
Brooke describes her hometown of Geneva, Illinois as a beautiful suburb directly west of the city. After graduating from Geneva High School, Brooke started college at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Her plan was to major in English, specifically to pursue creative writing, as she absolutely loved -- and still loves -- the art of prose. On the other hand, Brooke also had – and continues to have -- an obsession with true crime. When Brooke discovered Criminology was also a subject she could major in, English seemed a less exciting prospect. However, she also quickly discovered that equally unexciting was that UIC didn’t have a Criminology program (at the time) and she’d have to transfer colleges if that was what she chose to pursue. Brooke soon felt both underwhelmed and overwhelmed on the see-saw of a clear decision between the two, so she did the next best thing -- she chose neither! Instead, Brooke dropped out of school to mull it all over, thinking with time she would eventually figure out what she wanted to study. Instead, Brooke realized she was on a new path of discovering where to put her time, energy, and passion.
After dabbling a bit in fashion design and drifting through a couple of random jobs here and there, Brooke finally landed at a nursery and landscaping company in Saint Charles, Illinois. “The Natural Garden” specialized in native plants and local sourcing. Nowadays, the importance and popularity of native plantings is a much more commonplace thing -- but back then, the vision and efforts of this company (and Brooke’s interest in it) were way ahead of their time. She worked for several years in inventory while learning peripherally from the landscape designers. One day, in preparation for a work party, the owner gave Brooke a massively sized vase, asked her to grab some flowers and put together an impromptu arrangement. When the rest of the staff arrived, Brooke’s bouquet caused quite the stir. Then someone said, “I think you’re doing the wrong thing. This isn’t the career for you. You need to work with flowers.” The proverbial seed was planted; Brooke’s perspective on her professional possibilities grew.
Just prior, Brooke had applied for an internal managerial position that she hadn’t been hired for. She decided it was time to switch gears. Despite not having any formal training in floral design, Brooke applied at a specialty grocery store that was looking for help in the floral department. She got the job. “Fake it till you make it!” Brooke laughs. When the store opened a second branch in another town, she transferred in as the floral department manager. It didn’t take customers long to notice Brooke’s knack for creating beautiful, blossomy bouquets. As a result, her flower orders became more frequent and bigger in scale.
After a few years, Brooke felt like she had enough experience to work in a proper flower shop. She bounced around a bit again, until she planted herself for a year and a half at a flower shop called “Ex Floreus” in Lake Forest. The owner became Brooke’s mentor and teacher and championed Brooke’s journey to be, “my best possible, most creative self.” When the store closed, her boss reached out to Walter Radloff, (who at the time owned The Flower Shop in Glencoe) and inquired about work opportunities on Brooke’s behalf. Initially the answer was no, but a couple of months later, there was a job opportunity on a freelance basis. The day Brooke walked in for her interview, she got a good vibe and said to herself, “One day, I will own this store.” Pretty big dreams for someone who hadn’t even been hired yet, but obviously Brooke was on to something. Shortly after that, the manager left, and Brooke filled the position. The shop became – and continues to be – the entirety of Brooke’s life and passion. She ran the shop for 10 years, designing, creating and growing the business three-fold. After 25 years of ownership, Walter sold Brooke The Flower Shop on September 1, 2017. I asked Brooke what she did to celebrate. She replied, “Nothing! Just got right back to work!”
To know Brooke’s shop is to know her windows. You can’t miss them. Like Brooke, they are punctuated with an uncompromising animated spirit and thoughtful determination. Brooke begins to tear up when describing what the windows mean to her. “Gay Pride, Trans Pride, Black Lives Matter! Visibility and inclusion are so important. I will not let people feel like they are unseen.”
Owning The Flower Shop has amplified Brooke’s voice for activism and she has amassed quite a supportive following. However, not everyone is a fan of the windows. There has been some backlash and vandalism. Food has been thrown at the Black Lives Matter posters, she’s gotten angry emails, angry letters and people have called and said they won’t support the store because she’s bringing in politics to her shop. Brooke counters that her displays are not about politics, they’re about people. “Some people think businesses shouldn’t have opinions. Those are my windows and I’m going to put whatever I want in them. I have a voice and I’m not afraid to use it.”
That all said and noted, I still had to ask Brooke my two remaining, highly anticipated questions. (Pausing only briefly to uncramp my fingers…)
Celebrity crush? “Cardi B. I’m obsessed with her, she gives me life!!! She’s all over my Instagram!” (Check it out for yourself -- @theflowershopinglencoe.)
Would Brooke survive a Zombie apocalypse? “Absolutely!!! No doubt!!! I have been preparing for it my whole life!!!” No surprise here. I was 1,000% sure of her answer before I even asked. The zombies have no chance.
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