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Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts Entertainment Chicago Illinois
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Carnations? Yeah, Right
Asrai Garden's owner Elizabeth Cronin is not your stereotypical florist.
Monday Oct 02, 2006.     By Jessica Herman
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

A florist and her loved ones.
With some serious bling spelling out "florist" around her neck, Asrai Garden's owner Elizabeth Cronin is not your stereotypical florist—the high-art shop may be absent of carnations, but Cronin's body displays no shortage of colorful tattoos of cherry blossoms, figs and flowers.

Dropping out of college before completing her environmental science degree, she learned about the floral business on the job. In two years she went from sales girl to manager at a flower shop that formerly resided in her store's space. She moved on to work as an event florist until hearing that her old boss was closing up shop. Seven years later, at 26, her fresh and unusual flowers dress the counters of dozens of nearby businesses and homes.

One hour before her shop opened on a recent Monday morning (and a few hours after her power Pilates class), a bright-eyed Cronin sat down in her store to discuss her life as a florist thus far.

What made you interested in going into the floral industry?
My mom and grandmother are huge gardeners. I grew up on the Northwest Side of Chicago on a triple lot, which is unheard of. My mom was a single parent and we were always gardening together. And so that's where this sort of came from, although I remember telling my mom over and over when I was a child that when I grew up I was going to live in a house with a cement yard because I was the one in charge of weeding...She likes to remind me of that.

Tell me what it's like working in the retail shop.
At the retail end of it, I love every minute of it. My customers are like my family, which is why I have 8 million photos of them everywhere [she gestures to the collage of photos pasted on the wall behind her]. If I didn't have to do events, I wouldn't. You couldn't really ask for better interaction with human beings. People come in and it makes them happy. You get to see people at their super best.

What's your favorite flower?
I have a different favorite flower every time one's in front of me. I know that I'm in the right profession because I'm retarded for flowers. Flowers come in that I love and I put them on my face and I nibble on them and it's, really, it's not right.

Describe your process of designing an arrangement.
Every time I'm staring at flowers, like right now while we're having this conversation, I'm looking at things without even thinking how oh, those will look really nice together. My brain is constantly doing that. I sort of do that with design in lots of aspects but mostly with flowers.

Would you list any influences on your designs?
No, I'm such a snob when it comes to flowers, really 95 percent of everything that's out there turns me off. Every once in a while I'll see things that inspire me that other people do, but that's pretty rare...I'm way more into architecture and interior design than painting and drawing, so those things definitely influence me.

How would you describe your style?
I don't know. We're definitely a European-style shop but I hate saying that. The closest flower shops that I've found to mine are flower shops that are in France; the closest aesthetic-wise is one in Manhattan, but she's French, from Paris. The store is organized by color and you'll never see more than two colors in a bouquet unless someone is really twisting our arm. So we can make it bright, but you get it all in the same color palette. Cause otherwise it makes me want to vomit.

Where do you see your future as a florist?
I'm in the process of opening a shop in Brooklyn right now with my best friend, who lives there. We were hoping to open February but it'll probably not be for a year. I'll be there five or six days a month, which is exciting for me cause I was born and raised in Chicago and I've been in this neighborhood forever...it makes me insane to come to the six corners every day of my life for ever and ever amen.

Check out Asrai Gardens' goods at 1935 W. North Ave. Just don't ask for a rainbow bouquet.