OCOEE — To follow the March 6 grand openings of fellow McKey Street merchants Book Rack and West Side Merchantile — as well as power-washing and city redesign of streetscapes in April — several new businesses opened in the spring in downtown Ocoee, including Europa Designs, a live-design floral shop available for business as of May 9.
“The culture of my shop is: you pick a vase or tell me what your order is, and I design live for you,” owner and operator Stephen Bates said. “I opened the Saturday before Mother’s Day, a very soft opening. I ordered a ton of flowers, because I was thinking I was going to busy.”
Despite projection mapping and elegant paper designs in his windows at the intersection of McKey Street and Cumberland Avenue, such as a wedding dress, a chandelier and, of course, flowers, the demand has not yet matched the supply, said Bates, who has almost two decades of design experience.
“I actually moved here in ’98 to be a floral designer for Disney,” Bates said. “I worked for a lot of people and wore a lot of different hats. Most recently, I was in management with Staples. I just went home, and I was like, ‘I’m done working for the man. I want to be creative.’ That’s what I want to do, because I’m cut out to be creative and make my own place. My family jumped on board and we started looking for locations.”
The process moved quickly, with Bates ready to move his business in somewhere within about a month-and-a-half and eager to open in time for Mother’s Day, he said. Among the locations he explored were West Oaks Mall and Lake Olympia Square at the corner of East Silver Star and North Clarke roads. He ultimately rented the front room — and later the back room — of what had been Performance Trophy and spent days remaking the interior because he felt he had found the right place.
“I wanted to stay in the Ocoee area because I have family here and kind of felt like it’s where I needed to be,” Bates said. “I feel like there’s a niche for different design, good design, good creative. My background is in special events, weddings, themed environments. I wanted someplace that could be a studio that could eventually grow into a full production company, where I could do costuming. … But right now, we’re starting out retail florist and going toward more commercial florist.”
As he presents his “retail- tainment,” Bates wants to be able to share knowledge of his design and flowers with customers and feel part of the community, something he believes his business can contribute to the McKey Street Downtown Ocoee Shopping District.
AHMAD’S BARBER SHOP
Another recent new business is Ahmad’s Barber Shop, which also opened in the second week of May and features three young men — Ahmad Hassan, Joseph Then and Ryan Khan — taking a retro sort of approach to a community barbershop.
“We’re going for an old-school look with sort of a new-school twist, so we’re trying to bring back the traditional barber,” Hassan said.
The three chairs in his shop are from St. Louis and Chicago, one in its original form from the 1930s and the others made in the 1920s and 1909, he said.
“We got a pay phone; we got old-school Coke bottles,” Hassan said. “We’re still in the works. Our pole we’ll be putting up soon … to make up the front and so you can see it from afar.”
To add to the artistic character they seek, the barbers put on easygoing music, such as reggae, and offer classic touches, including a hot-lather shave. They believe in providing a quality service, with their motto: “You look good; you do good; you feel good.”
“This was something that we’ve all been doing,” Hassan said. “Ryan’s been doing it for about six years; Jason’s been doing it professionally for a year-and-a-half; and myself for another six years.”
Hassan has worked in several barbershops in Queens, New York, and in Apopka. Last year, his aunt died of cancer at 51, which inspired him to open this shop.
“Every night, I would stay up with her until 3, 4 in the morning, and we would have these talks,” he said. “I would tell her goals and hopes and dreams, and this was one of them. I said, ‘By 23, I’d really like to be in my own barbershop — different type of style, something more comfortable, cozy to someone to get a haircut. A little bit everyone can relate to.”
For more information, visit europadesignsllc.com and the McKey Street Downtown Ocoee Shopping District Facebook page.
ADDRESS: 102 W. McKey St., Ocoee
PHONE: (407) 395-9961
AHMAD’S BARBER SHOP
ADDRESS: 10 W. McKey St., Ocoee
PHONE: (407) 325-4853
Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].