By Sophie Bolich, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service   Published Aug 25, 2018 at 12:16 PM

Sisters Monica and Jessica Beltran were never risk takers, until the risk involved quitting their jobs and turning their lives upside down.   

"I never liked change," said Monica, co-owner of Gardenia Flower Market, which opened April at 2101 W. Mitchell St. "I was afraid to graduate high school, to move out of my parents’ house and to graduate college. Quitting my job to start this business with my sister, I wasn’t scared for the first time."

The sisters left their jobs in 2016 to buy an abandoned building and revamp it into what is now a flourishing plant and flower shop. Monica was a pastry chef and Jessica had a manager position at Pete’s Fruit Market.

"It was a risk because my old job was very secure," Monica said. "But because it’s something we can grow as a family; it was easy to say yes. I knew the vision my sister had would work."

The market is located in the Muskego Way neighborhood on the South Side. Inside, the space is light and breezy with hardwood floors and fresh, white walls. Plants cover every available surface; there are tables laden with leafy ferns, shelves of knobby bamboo, climbing vines snaking up the walls, baskets of fragrant flowers and, in one corner, a tank of goldfish.

Jessica said arranging flowers had always been a hobby before it became her career.

"I made arrangements for my siblings’ weddings," she said. "When we started selling plants at Pete’s, I saw that people liked it, and I thought, ‘I’m in the wrong business. I need to be with flowers and plants.’"

Jessica and Monica say naming the store was sentimental for them because the gardenia was their grandmother’s favorite flower. Jessica said she also liked the name because it has the same meaning in both English and Spanish.

"Because we live in a neighborhood with a lot of Spanish-speaking people, we want to make them feel more comfortable, so they don’t have to go somewhere else that might not be able to speak Spanish," she said. "We can answer their questions and we also learn a lot of nicknames for plants from their native areas."

Neither sister had a formal business education. Instead, they learned from experiences at other businesses, reading and picking it up on the fly.

Jessica and her husband, Oscar Marin, also have a dry cleaning business on 44th Street and Fond du Lac Avenue.

"The other business helped us learn, but it’s mostly reading about it and then doing it," Jessica said.

Marin said he and his wife always admired the building while driving past. They wondered why nobody bought the place, which had been abandoned for more than 10 years. In early 2015, they took the leap and bought it, then spent two years fixing it up, keeping the original floors, doors and structure, and updating utilities.

Jessica and Marin have four kids ranging from six months to four years old. Both parents said they think it’s beneficial for the kids to spend time in the shop.

"They’re helping out, getting their hands dirty," Marin said. "It’s good for them to see mom and dad working on something that’s important to us."

Owning two small businesses has been no easy feat, according to Marin, but he said all the work is worth it.

"It’s a sense of pride. I think people are starting to move away from the big box stores and realize the value in going to small businesses where the owners are knowledgeable and can answer questions," he said.

Eventually, Jessica and Monica want to start doing workshops in the community and for local schools. Monica said she has always been drawn to teaching, so this job provides a perfect opportunity to work with kids.

The sisters are also working with the Muskego Way Neighborhood Committee on a project to beautify the neighborhood with sidewalk planters. The shop is also involved in local service projects such as an upcoming school supply giveaway at Reyna’s Hair Salon, 1609 S. 11th St. on Aug. 26.

"We wanted to bring a nice shop to the neighborhood, and we want people to stay in the neighborhood and invest here," Jessica said. "There’s a lot of liquor stores and convenience stores. This is something different."