Dramatic mid career shift for area florist comes up roses
It takes an extraordinary person to jump from a nearly two decade long career as a machinist into flower arranging, an occupation nearly at the opposite end of the employment spectrum. But Ernest (Ernie) Nelson did just that – and without even an inkling of training in floral arrangement.
Relying solely on innate talent, the Charleroi native and now Denbo resident decided in October 1991 to open a floral shop in half of a duplex in Denbo, the coal patch town where his partner, and now husband, Doug Kovach, grew up.
Playing around with ideas for a name for his shop, he eventually settled on The Patch House, which he financed on “a wing and a prayer,” meaning a limited budget. Continuing to work full time as a machinist at Corning in Charleroi while running the shop on weekends, he got into the wedding flower and decorating circuit in 1993, the same year he added a gourmet foods and gift basket component to the business.
“It was a good time to get into the wedding business because there were a lot of women of marriageable age in the area, potential brides who were in their mid 20s,” he said. “Early on, we did as many as 80 weddings in a single year.”
As the business expanded, Nelson decided to take a leap of faith in 1994 and quit his machinist job of 17 years Looking for a bigger place to open up a fresh floral shop as a compliment to his wedding work, he found one in Centerville along Route 40, which today serves as a pizza parlor. Five years at his new location, Pretty Petals, as the business was and still is called, his lease was up, brisk business called for a bigger place, and Nelson began looking around for site number three.
He found one just up the road on Route 40 in a cozy two-story house in Centerville Borough, located between the Chuck Wagon Restaurant and Salamone’s Italian Food Market, two long-time business landmarks in the area. Currently, the shop specializes in flowers and flower arrangements, house plants, seasonal gourmet foods and gift baskets and home decor items.
To expand his expertise even more, Nelson enrolled in a correspondence course in 2002, studied hard and earned a wedding and event planning certificate from Weddings Beautiful International. The certificate is prominently .mounted on a wall in his consulting room.
“The course wasn’t a piece of cake,” he said. “I had to work hard, study a lot and mail in a lot of completed lessons. But the effort paid off, I learned a lot and still refer to my books from time to time when planning an event or wedding.”
While much of his work is local and regional, he’s also planned weddings and events for patrons as far away as Pittsburgh, Oglebay Park in Wheeling and even Houston, Texas.
One wedding he found most interesting was for a couple on a Caribbean cruise who were getting married on one of their shore excursions. After much consultation with the bride and groom, he emailed the details of the event – everything from the flowers, bouquets and ceremony location to the decorations and time flow of the day.
While Nelson will do small weddings where the bride and groom stop by to pick up their own flowers, he can also do much larger ones where he’ll plan the details the event down to the chef, the wait staff, the stemware, flatware, wine service, linens, flowers and more. Over the years, he said he’s built up a large portfolio of resources to call on – bands, DJs, photographers, caterers, bouquet preservers and tuxedo rental and bridal gown shops.
“I can plan everything from very little to the entire kit and caboodle,” he said. “Planning a wedding should be enjoyable, not rushed. Without proper planning, weddings can often be frustrating.”
Nelson charges nothing for a consultation, but once he’s hired, his fee is a percentage of the overall package.
With Valentine’s Day just over the horizon, he can plan romantic dinners at area restaurants with “secluded” sweetheart tables covered with linen and scattered with rose petals and Champagne on request.
“For Valentine’s Day, it’s roses, roses, roses,” he said.
There’s yet another side to Nelson’s multifaceted personality make up. He loves to sing. For the past 20 years, he’s studied voice, including a long stint with Dr. Walter Weaver of Monongahela. Currently, he’s also in his third season with the prestigious Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh.
Despite his busy schedule, Nelson also finds time to lecture at area garden clubs. So well regarded, he was chosen to be present a special floral design program titled “Junk from Your Trunk” at the 84th annual Pennsylvania Garden Club Federation Convention at the Monroeville Convention Center in April of 2014.
“As much as I loves singing, flower arranging and lecturing, my greatest love still remains wedding and event planning,” he said.
For more information, phone 724-785-6048.
Story by Dave Zuchowski for Pennsylvania Bridges