FAIRBANKS — The friendly staff at Alaskan Floral & Wedding can find just about any dress, tuxedo or floral arrangement to make a wedding special, even a safety orange wedding gown to match a groom’s camo tuxedo, though they might not be the most thrilled about that last decision.
Alaskan Floral & Wedding has been in business for 65 years, changing hands, adding services and moving from storefront to storefront, and it’s an attention to the ever-changing needs and desires of their customers that has kept customers coming back.
The business opened in January 1947 as Alaska Floral, the first flower shop in Fairbanks, more than a decade before Alaska became a state. The business has changed hands, adding bridal services and tuxedos in the 1970s and moved to various locations.
Cindy Gahrmann and her husband, Robert, purchased it six years ago and earlier this year moved into a new storefront on College Road across from the fairgrounds.
Gahrmann had worked for Alaskan Floral & Wedding when she was 16 and moved onto other jobs in the restaurant business and in wedding planning. Today, she works as the business’ flower specialist, chiefly responsible for designing assortments for weddings and other events.
She said she approaches the business with a simple philosophy, give the customers what they want.
“I want them to have a really wonderful experience,” she said. “They can feel really, really comfortable in here, and that’s why I moved here into a boutique instead of a more traditional store.”
The new store at 1717 College Road looks more like a house than store, with a wide array of clothes, dresses, flowers and gowns each tidily tucked into various corners of the two-story building.
For Jessica Campa, Alaskan Floral’s dress specialist, it’s all about working with brides to find a dress that not only matches their dreams but also makes them look the best when they say “I do.”
“You give them what they feel they want and then you take that and make them beautiful,” she said. “I have girls who come in here and want to wear galoshes to their wedding, and I say ‘OK, what color?’”
The small store, which they moved into in March, doesn’t have the most exhaustive collection of dresses, but the staff boasts about how quickly they can get the perfect dress in the right size sent up from the Lower 48.
“If you want a Goth wedding and you want black overlay on a red dress, that’s doable. If you want vintage with a 1950s short housewife in pale blue, totally doable,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of requests for hazard orange, and we try to steer them away from that. How do you get hunter orange across? You kind of end up with the pumpkin orange.”
Upstairs, the tuxedo specialist Sandy Zukowski gets a thrill out of catering to the odd and unusual requests. She laughs as she holds up a photo of two teenagers who had gone to their prom in brightly colored orange and sky blue tuxedos straight out of “Dumb & Dumber.” She admits the pinstriped black Zoot suit isn’t the best look on a short, heavy-set man.
Like her other employees, Gahrmann said she’s most interested in making people happy by providing everything they need for a perfect wedding experience.
But not everything has gone smoothly for Alaskan Floral. There have been plenty of ups and downs in its 65 years of operation. Gahrmann introduced consignments a few years ago when the economic downturn hit.
The new location has been a challenge, too, Gahrmann said. Some of her regular customers assumed the business shut its doors, but she’s optimistic the new space will give her the opportunity to expand and offer better services to her customers.
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544.