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Thursday, Mar 26, 2015

Making occasions special

BY KIM DAME Hernando Today correspondent

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Creating the perfect dream wedding takes months of planning. From coordinating floral arrangements at the church and reception hall to choosing the best color palettes for the table décor, the details can seem unending.

Connie Charlton, owner of A Special Occasion is a multi-tasking genius when it comes to organizing every party detail to perfection. For 25 years, she has helped couples enjoy what is often described as the most important day of their lives without a single glitch, at least on her end.

And during that impressive length of time in business, she hasn’t experienced a single complaint.

A Special Occasion began in a small storefront on Jefferson St. in downtown Brooksville as Balloons Galore. “We focused almost entirely on balloons,” Charlton said. “They were really popular then.”

It was a small storefront, she said, and mainly served as a place to meet clients. Her larger items, like arches, fountains, wishing wells, tables, chairs, and bigger props were stored in a warehouse at her residence. “I was always taking people to the warehouse because they wanted to see the bigger items,” she said.

It made sense to move the business to the warehouse which she remodeled into a comfortable facility, with a cozy meeting area in the front and storage in the back. “It’s like a two minute walk from my house,” she joked. But the convenience factor was a big deal. Planning big parties often requires flexibility with schedules.

The facility is now an inviting showroom where Charlton meets her clients to go over the plans for the occasion. The rooms are decorated with mock fountains, archways of different textures and styles, beveled and engraved glassware, and all sorts of party planning accessories.

One entire room is reserved for her floral shop that is used strictly for flower arrangements, custom made for each event. And her years of collecting items have made it possible to coordinate nearly any theme with impacting details.

The atmosphere of the property, with thick shade trees and a serene winding driveway, sets the stage, at least in part, for Charlton’s exuberant and cheerful personality. Yet it is a deep passion, evident from her smile, which motivates her to consistently exceed even her own expectations.

Charlton had a background in party planning which led her to reinvent herself after working in the airline industry for years. Her creative passion laid the foundation for the business. But her people skills, picked up as a flight attendant, gave it staying power.

She has an amazing technique for communicating by understanding the simple universal rule that most people respond to; feeling valued. “Everyone has their own idea,” Charlton said, “and my job, whether I like the style or not, is to make their dreams come true.”

She begins most consultations by asking the client to bring in things that are special to them. And with her professional guidance, they turn those items or ideas into unforgettable treasured memories.

“Everyone wants options,” she said. “When I do a proposal, I get it all down. And I always do a big ‘or’ and give them another option. I price everything out individually and give them a cost. So if they have to delete something to fit their budget, they can delete.”

A Special Occasion is affordable since much of the items are rented to the client. From the platforms that hold the flower arrangements to acrylic boxes for gift cards from the guests, everything can be rented and is monetary in cost. Even custom party favors and center pieces are very affordable.

A Special Occasion is also convenient. Charlton sets up before the event and tears everything down the same day.

She told stories of sweet 16 birthday parties, anniversary parties and teacher of the year award banquets that pooled together a balanced combination of creativity and style. And each description hinted at the pride Connie felt when the jobs were done.

And while A Special Occasion still offers a wide range of options from simple gatherings to weddings of 300 or more guests, the smaller more intimate wedding tends to be the typical.

But every project offers an opportunity to push the boundaries just a little, to experiment with more creative options, and to accomplish a finished result that imbeds the most cherished memories.

A Special Occasion doesn’t just work inside the county. Charton will go as far as 200 miles to work her magic. “Have vans, will travel,” she joked.

And she manages to do it all with a dedicated team of mostly part-time help and one right hand employee, Pat Forcino, who has been with her for three years, and her long-time florist, Virginia Hess.

And like a true artist, each project is a unique passion, no matter the size. Flipping through her display book, Charlton gives details about each event as if it had just happened.

She smiled at the reality, however. “I’m now planning weddings for past client’s children,” she said. That is perhaps the best compliment she could hope to receive.

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