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Frannett spirit reblooms

Franca Sweaney is back in business. That is great news to the three decades' worth of clients who came to depend on her for the elegant silk floral creations that are her specialty.

You'll find her at work Wednesdays and Saturdays at Frannet's, the retail business that decorator Rosemary Johnson has opened at 911 Central Ave.

Longtime customers will note a subtle name change.

Sweaney closed Frannett, her shop on Fourth Street N, in the summer of 2001. Johnson dropped a "t" and added an apostrophe and an "s" in christening the new store.

She put about $40,000 worth of improvements into the 2,500-square-foot property formerly occupied by Good Buy Sportswear, and persuaded Sweaney to join her. Johnson, who owned Rosemary's Antiques on Fourth Avenue N, retired 3{ years ago.

"I could tell you everything that was going on on the soaps," she said, "and that wasn't good."

The new incarnation of the business offers Sweaney's silk compositions, plus furniture, china, linens and gifts.

A brass bird cage Johnson describes as being the size of a small Taj Mahal houses autumn and Halloween decor. She paid a man $1,000 to polish it; it took him six weeks working 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to accomplish the task.

Sweaney's work is on display throughout the store and ranges from feathery fern cascades to sturdy lime branches laden with fruit. A vintage urn she filled with silk roses and Queen Anne's lace 20 years ago stands refreshed and ready to return home; its owner wanted nothing changed, just a little fluffing. A tiny paintbrush gently dispersed years of accumulated dust from individual leaves and petals.

Two- and 3-foot trees line an area of the shop, bare and awaiting ornamentation. Work already is under way on custom gift orders and nativity scenes. Johnson said the holiday frenzy started in the shop last month.

Three former Frannett employees, Lucy Stephany, Michael Tollar and Patrick McCue, also are part of the staff. Last week, McCue labored on Christmas arrangements as Sweaney ordered spring blossoms, examining silk specimens housed in nearly 200 display boxes in Mayer Amarnek's Arty Imports truck.

More than 30 years ago, Franca Sweaney taught classes in floral arranging and began creating her signature pieces from a small counter in the downtown Maas Brothers department store.

"Get it out of your system," she said her husband, Bill, advised her in 1967. "You're not going to last very long."

Frannet's is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with extended holiday hours. A holiday open house is scheduled Oct. 28-30.

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