April 1, 2002
Heart and flower memories continue for Woodinville Florist
by Carol Edwards
Twenty-five years ago on Jan. 1, 1977, a small florist shop called Woodinville Weed and Flower was officially purchased by Mike and Delores (Dee) Brittain. Mike had just returned from working construction overseas and Dee was working at Paccar as the international traffic manager.
"In late fall of 1976 I saw an ad in The Woodinville Weekly for a Woodinville business for sale," said Mike. "I contacted the owners and paid the full retail price of $13,000. I then called my wife and told her I had just bought a florist shop. Thinking I said floor shop, she said, 'You don't know anything about laying floors and tile. ' I said, 'Flower shop.' She then said, 'You know even less about flowers.'"
The shop was in an old house next to where Firestone is today. Woodinville Florist later moved to the Woodgate Shopping Center before the final move to the 175th Street Station 15 years ago.
"When I opened the shop on Jan. 2 I fortunately had a flower designer who worked for the previous owners and agreed to continue. It wasn't too long before I applied for a FTD license and changed the name to Woodinville Florist," said Mike. "The late Gene Mack said that we wouldn't make any money for at least five years. Little did he know it would take 15 years. I was surprised when Bill Shannon of Shannon's Florist in Bothell welcomed me. He was tired of driving to the eastern part of Woodinville and said he would send me those orders."
"The biggest compliment we ever had was when his family asked us to run his store the day of his funeral," said Dee.
Mike was learning the day-to-day business when he got his first real shock on Valentine's Day in 1977.
"We normally went through one bunch of roses in a week. When the wholesaler told me to buy a case of roses for Valentine's Day I thought he was nuts. He promised to buy back what I didn't sell so I bought the case. We were out by noon," said Mike. "The next shock came when my designer quit. There were orders to be made up and deliveries to make. Amazingly five minutes after my designer quit a lady walked through the front door looking for a job. I said take your coat off and go to work."
In the early days Mike would deliver orders all around Puget Sound, even going to Federal Way.When Mike's health became an issue, Dee quit her job and took over the management of Woodinville Florist. Their two sons, Michael and Mark, both helped during their high school years.
"We get to deliver smiles. I have delivered to mothers on Mother's Day and had them throw their arms around me, thanking me for the flowers," said Mike. "There is alway something happening. After going in the ditch one icy Thanksgiving I called our customers. We delivered their flowers on Thanksgiving Day."
"One Christmas our van was wrecked along with a whole load of deliveries. We had to remake it all and called in the crew on a Sunday," said Dee. "Valentine's Day is a stressful time anyway and one year was disasterous when our warehouse lost its electricity, and everything was frozen solid in the morning. All the vases filled with water were broken. We regrouped and worked until 11 that night."
"It's fun to see the teenagers now bringing in their children and the babies that were sent flowers now grown up and still our customers," Dee continued.
About 10 years ago, Woodinville Florist won the best decorated jump at the Marymoor Little Bit Riders program. It was about that time that Mike became more ill.
"I had my first open heart surgery 21 years ago, followed by more than 100 heart attacks. I have gone through two pacemakers and one and one-half implanted defibrillaters and became a candidate for a heart transplant."
It became harder for Mike to work at the florist shop. The couple bought Illusions, a sports bar in Duvall, so he could have something to do. They later sold it.
On March 1, 1999, Mike went to a clinic appointment.
"The doctor called me and said Mike would not be coming home," said Dee.
After five years of waiting and 64 days in the University of Washington Hospital, Mike, very weak, was notified that there was hope for a new heart.
"They told me early one morning that a harvest team was on their way to Montana by private jet to see if the heart from a young man in his 20s would match. The tissues matched. The (recipient) has to be at least two inches taller to take care of the extra weight that comes with the aftercare and medicine. The doctors took my heart out while the other was in the air. The transplant was a success," said Mike. "The next five days I remember knowing that there was construction in the hospital and hearing hammering all day long.
"I couldn't sleep and asked the nurse if they could stop the noise. She said I was hearing the blood coursing through my veins from my heart pumping so strongly and soon my brain would be conditioned not to hear it."
With pink cheeks and better health, Mike was released 21 days after his transplant.
"I had nothing in my system to fight germs so I had to go into the hosital when an ingrown toenail gave me blood poisoning to my knee. The transplant medicine suppresses your immune systme so the body will not reject the new heart.
"I have to stay on drugs the rest of my life and many times wear a mask. One day I went to church with my mask on and one of the little kids gave me a high five and said 'Hi doctor.' I have to stay away from any home or business with birds because they carry a lot of disease," said Mike.
After the heart transplant the Brittains took their dream vacation to New Zealand for one month.
While there, Mike became the first heart transplant person to bungee jump off the Kalahawa Bridge where bungee jumping originated.
Since that time Mike returns every November to enter the International Fishing Derby.
With a new heart and lots of flowers, business continues at the Woodinville Florist.