Someone You Should Know

By the time she realized her dream of managing a flower shop, Austin resident Lisa Donell had more experience within business world than most. The experience, involving both personal heartbreak and the evolution of her skills as a florist, impacted her life in ways both tragic and enlightening.

“[In the late 90’s] three of my sisters and one niece passed away and I was suddenly placed in the position of raising 12 nieces and nephews with my mother, along with three children of my own,” said the 40-year-old owner of First Choice Flower Shop, 5331 W. North Ave. “Once I was placed in this position, I began working at a flower shop and after five years began setting my sights on opening a shop of my own.”

One of her sisters died in 1995, which began a heart-wrenching period for Donell and her family.

Donell was studying nursing at DePaul University at the time of her sister’s death. A year later, another sister would die. Donell would become a mother to her two sisters’ kids. She decided to leave school and work full-time to help support the large family of 17.

“Two of my sisters were addicted to heroin and were infected with the HIV virus through the use of unclean needles. Then another sister lost her battle with leukemia less about a year later,” said Donell. “It was an extremely difficult time for me and the family but we drew strength from each other and carried on, knowing that the children were our main priority now.”

During that 9-year span, Donell worked full-time with World Vision, an international Christian relief and development organization. She also worked at flower shop designing flowers for weddings, graduations and funerals.

In 2003, she lost another sister in a domestic dispute. Donell was disheartened by the lack of support she received from her job.

“I had issues with the way the shop’s management and the way they treated us as employees, she said. “It had been this way for a while; however, their reaction to my sister’s passing was pretty much the last straw. I had worked for them loyally for five years and when they not only didn’t offer to do the flowers for my sister’s funeral but also charged me for the flowers without discount as well. I knew I had to leave and finally put my plan into motion.”

Donell left the shop in April 2005. Within two weeks, she had a location identified for her own place. Among her early mentors, she said, was Gardner Marcy, chairmen of World Vision, who shared some of his business savvy.

“Gardner Marcy walked me through, step-by-step, everything I needed to know to make my business grow and be prosperous,” said Donell, who opened her First Choice Flower Shop in May 2005. “I learned about location, advertising, and money management skills from Gardner. I wanted to ensure that once the shop opened, it would stay open.”

“Often businesses fail within the first three months, because of a lack of preparation,” she added. “I didn’t want that fate to befall me. I began really promoting the business by sending portfolios to wedding chapels and funeral homes in the area.”

Donell said she was even hired by Congressman Danny Davis (7th) to decorate some of the events he has held.

“I’ve been very fortunate to receive such a tremendous amount of support from the community,” she said.

Donell wants to open another location in south suburban Dolton. Donell wants to ensure that all of her children remain on the path of success.

“Some of my nieces work with me at the flower shop. And that’s the way I like it,” Donell said. “This business began when a boss of mine taught me the ends and outs of business ownership and I want to teach them the same things.”

For more information about First Choice Flower Shop call 773/237-4001.