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War of the roses stalks two competing florists

Some wars are fought with weapons and some with words. But the war between two Tampa florists is being fought with petals and signs. And when the pollen clears, both may reign as Kings of the Roses. The battle started a year ago, when the Tampa Bay Rose Co. opened a retail shop four blocks from the Artistic Florist on W Busch Boulevard.

Tampa Bay Rose taunted its enemy. The outside sign said "Roses, $5.95/dozen."

"At first, we just ignored them," said Artistic's owner William J. Richardson.

But then diplomacy was surrendered. Richardson's new sign advertised roses for $4.95 a dozen.

So Tampa Bay Rose retaliated.

"For about an hour, we were selling roses for $2.99 a dozen," said Michael Kuehne, owner of Tampa Bay Rose.

"We told him we'd give them away if we had to," said Sharon Lowrey, Artistic's floral designer.

Before the spritzers were drawn, a truce was called. War, it seems, is good for business.

Kuehne's $1-million-a-year business territory originally was selling single roses in singles bars. The shop was merely an outlet for the discounted leftovers. The business has done so well that he opened another and will have a third in Brandon before the holidays are out.

"The customer has been gouged for many years, and now they're looking for bargains," Kuehne said.

Kuehne sells 20,000 to 25,000 roses a week, calling it the "fast-food of the floral business."

As the only florist with a drive-through window, Richardson is in the running for that title, too. He sold 99 dozen roses on Mother's Day, a record for the 14-year-old shop.

Both shops sell the bouquets in a variety of colors, wrapped in tissue, on a cash-and-carry basis. Both say the blooms are the same quality as arrangements other florists sell for up to $50. Most customers are men, and they buy red roses more than any other color.

Customers at Tampa Bay Rose waited in line for an hour on Valentine's Day to purchase the long-stems for $12.95 a dozen, the year's highest price. And Richardson acknowledged that he has more business than he can handle because the customers return for special occasions.

Peace now reigns. Roses sell for $4.95 at Tampa Bay Rose and $4.79 at Artistic.

"It's the best thing that ever happened to business," Richardson said.