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Job Spotlight: Hazel Rogers Thomas, Florist and owner of Hazel's Flowers & Gifts in Columbus

This week, Hazel Thomas will wake up early at her Midland home and head to her store at 9 a.m., prepared to toil until 10 p.m., as she gets ready for the Super Bowl.

But it's not what you think. She will be taking part in the Super Bowl of love, when the gift of a flower bouquet lets that special someone know that you truly care.

"On Wednesday night, we'll make sure that everything is taken care of before we leave here at 2 or 3 in the morning," said Thomas, 63, a florist and owner of Hazel's Flowers & Gifts on Midtown Drive in Columbus.

"We'll have all of our deliveries mapped out. We'll have all of our flowers done. And we'll get back here at 5 (a.m.) so we can get started and get things delivered," said the Columbus native, who has been in business 23 years, the first 17 years on Buena Vista Road.

Thomas' path to a job involving colorful flowers, lush plants and beautiful arrangements wasn't exactly planned, however. A job with AT&T that took her to Atlanta for a year left the mother of a young son feeling a void. So she took a buyout and gave up the back-and-forth trips, returning home for good.

Looking for a new profession, Thomas purchased a florist shop adjacent to a funeral home in 1989. She then visited a wholesaler to get a handle on what she needed in the way of flowers and other amenities. The Columbus native had no experience at first, but quickly learned the ropes and has been successful ever since.

The Ledger-Enquirer talked with Thomas recently to get a feel for her job, what it entails and why she enjoys it.

So Valentine's Day this coming Thursday is like a Super Bowl event for your industry?

This is our Super Bowl. It gets very busy, to the point that sometimes you have to give customers numbers. We have customers who've been married 50 years. I've got one man and he always wants three dozen of roses and he wants them in separate vases and he puts balloons on each one. He always buys his wife something. I'll probably look for him Monday (today). He comes in early and makes his request.

But there obviously are the procrastinators of the world?

Yes. But we love those types of people. They've procrastinated, so they say: Oh, she has to get it before she gets off work at 2 o'clock. That's why we have three delivery people, three designers and two people to help in the front. We've already had some pre-booked orders. But Monday we should really start to see the customers come in.

What other big days or events do you see?

We do very good business for Mother's Day. A lot of people are surprised, but we do very good for Thanksgiving and Christmas. There are people who are invited to dinner, so they take fresh flowers to the people who have invited them. They buy the centerpieces to go on the Thanksgiving table, and people really enjoy that.

What skills are needed to be a florist or floral designer?

You need to like what you do, and like working with your hands. It's a talent. You're an artist because you're making up things that you think someone else will like. We have books, but we also do a lot of what we think just looks good.

Although it's Valentine's week, funerals have to be a big portion of your business?

Yes. Lately, we've been doing quite a bit of funeral work. At least 60 percent of our work is for funerals. It's very rewarding when the family writes you a special note telling you that the design you chose, the flowers that you used, really made their day, because it's such a sad time for them ... We really do take special care when the families come in ... And there are the people in the hospitals, who may be very sick (that receive flower deliveries), and you just want something that brightens their day.

What flowers do you like to work with the most?

Roses and lillies. Lillies just really stand out and they can make an arrangement.

What's the most challenging aspect of your job?

The changing environment. You see the grocery stores now selling flowers, and that's just not good for florists. And there are the street vendors, who we know should have a license, but they don't. But we just try to give the best service and make sure that with our designs, you get the value of what you pay for. We like to give you beautiful designs.

What's the most unusual thing you've done, possibly an event?

I've done a couple of weddings that were really huge. One of the brides had 12 bridesmaids. We did it from the beginning to the end. We helped select the dresses and the hotels where her family came in and stayed. It was very, very nice. We had to put a lot of time into it, but it was well worth it. We also decorate homes for holidays and parties. We do all of that, but on special request.

You're an independent, so how have the big brands and 800-number flower outlets affected you?

It does impact us. But what people find out is that when they use those services, they're not particularly satisfied. We get a lot of orders asking us if we can help them fix something that has been sent. You can get roses from (national companies) for like $19.95. They come in a box with a vase. You have to put the flowers in there yourself.

What advice would you have for someone interested in being a florist?

It's about what makes you happy. If you like designing flowers, then that's something that you really should pursue. We work long hours, and you have to really want to work in a flower shop. Most of them are small, and it's more of a family. You've got to enjoy being around people (at different moments in their lives).