LAKEVIEW — Zlata Niketic has been able to do the two things she loves most.
One of them has been owning Goldie’s Flower Shop for the last 16 years.
The other might surprise her neighbors and customers.
That’s because Niketic, 54, doesn’t sing around the shop and doesn’t usually talk about her past life as a Serbian-language songbird.
A well-known performer in the 1970s and 1980s in this country’s Serbian communities, Niketic long ago traded her microphone for pruning shears to run her Lakeview flower shop.
Growing up in Kladanj, a medium-sized town in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina, she knew she wanted to be a singer.
When she was 14, she moved to here to be with her mother and two brothers and her professional career began soon after.
Niketic described her brand of music as Modern Folk, a halfway point between old ethnic and pop. While she couldn’t compare herself to any American singers, her powerful, clear voice is somewhat similar to Barbra Streisand’s.
Niketic released a single, “Besane Noci” (“Sleepless Nights”), in 1977, and an album, “Hej, Dragi, Povedi Me” (“Hey, Honey, Take Me”), in 1987. In addition to making her recordings, Niketic played at local restaurants and banquet halls. She also toured in other U.S. cities and met her husband, Stanko, while working a gig on her 17th birthday — March 9, 1975 — in New York.
“When I heard Zlata sing for the first time, I was speechless,” Stanko said. “Her voice is amazing and mesmerizing ... I could listen to her for hours.”
Health problems stopped Niketic’s career in the late 1990s and she rarely sings anymore.
"I stopped singing 13 years ago,'' she said. "My back started hurting and my thyroid was bad, so I had to stop singing."
She said she also grew tired of the long hours, boozy crowds and the elaborate ritual of dressing up. (Think big hair, silver dresses and heavy eye shadow.)
“In the Serbian community, it’s so hard to do that kind of job,” she said. “After singing, I was looking for a normal life.”
Niketic said the idea of starting a flower shop popped into her head during a morning jog. She had always loved working with flowers and making arrangements, but Niketic, then 38, didn’t even know the names of many common varieties.
“When Zlata came to me with her idea … I thought to myself, ‘What does she know about flowers?’” her husband said. “But after I saw the passion she had for the idea, I knew she would be a success.”
Niketic saw a flower shop in Lakeview and decided to ask the owner advice. Turns out, the owner wanted to retire and Niketic wound up buying all of the flower shop’s equipment, including a 10-by-10-foot cooler, for a sweet deal.
She opened Goldie’s — Zlata is “Goldie” in Serbian — at 903 W. Irving Park Rd. in September 1996.
“It was very, very weird how I started,” she said. “The owner gave me the keys, and I said, ‘What am I going to do now?’”
After setting up shop, Niketic learned the business quickly, and her knowledge increased after taking suggestions from other flower shop owners and customers. Niketic, who moved the business next door two years later, considers herself an expert, but added, “I’m still learning.”
Her store specializes in wedding arrangements but also caters to passers-by and people who visit and work at Thorek Memorial Hospital across the street.
“There’s just these beautiful bouquets all across the hospital [from her store],” said Dr. Cherie Gilleon, who has been using Niketic’s flower services for the past six months. “Everyone talks about them. They’re just fantastic.”
Niketic’s shop is less than a half-mile from her condominium home in Uptown. And she gets to bring her 2-year-old Yorkie, Smokey, to work daily.
She has traded the glamor of professional singing for the comforts of wearing sweats, surrounded by flowers.
"Singing, that was my first love," Niketic said, "but this is something that calms your nerves."
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