Ashley Ann Ferris is the new owner of Waterville Florist & Formal Wear on Main Street in Waterville. Ferris, seen Friday, purchased the business from Jeff Karter, who opened it 40 years ago. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — There was a time when life was serving up nothing but lemons for Ashley Ann Ferris.

Raising three daughters as a single mother was a struggle and there were instances when she turned to others for a hand up. Her health faltered for a time and she became seriously ill, requiring two surgeries before mending. And she was nearly brought to her knees a couple of years ago when a business venture – one that could pave a promising financial path – fell through.

But then she decided to buy some flowers. Ferris was a longtime customer of Waterville Florist & Formal Wear on Main Street and would often chat with the owner, Jeff Karter. She mentioned the business opportunity that fell flat.

That conversation in May 2020 led Karter to hire Ferris, with the understanding that she would start with the grunt work and then climb her way up, and if she showed an aptitude for the work then there would be an opportunity to buy the business.

Ferris, 35, jumped at the chance. She, indeed, learned the nuances of the operation and in November she took ownership.

“It was really about him getting me to the point where he could be confident that I could run the business,” Ferris said.


But it was also about Ferris leaning into an underlying ethos that’s carried her through challenging times.

“I always tell my girls that no matter what happens, we can make it through dedication, hard work and believing in yourself,” she said.

Karter opened the business 40 years ago on Water Street in Waterville, and 20 years later moved it to its current spot at 287 Main St. He’ll continue to play a role in the business, serving as a mentor to Ferris for the next year. Ferris said he’s not looking to ease into retirement. Karter has another business venture he’s already pursuing, she said.

Karter has purchased an apartment building next to the store, and that move has freed up more parking for customers. It’s also been beneficial to Ferris. She previously lived with her daughters, ages 18, 9 and 7, in Canaan, and the commute was difficult for a working mother juggling the needs of her children. But now they live in one of the apartments in the adjacent building, making the commute, and family life, much more manageable.

Ferris said she’s, expanding the offerings at the store by adding a new line of gift items in addition to providing women and children’s formal wear. But she also wants to be sure that she’s returning the kindness previously given to her.

She and Karter held a fundraiser last month to mark the 40th anniversary of the store and featured the sale of roses at the price they charged 40 years ago. They raised about $1,400 that they gave to the Waterville Area Soup Kitchen.

She wants such outreach efforts to be a mainstay of the business.

“It makes a connection with people,” she said. “I scream kindness to people.”

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