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English import opens custom basket shop

When a young boy stepped into Basketly Delicious on Metropolitan Avenue one day in search of a gift for his mother, he discovered just how far 50 cents can go.

“I work for any budget,” the shop’s owner, Angela Powell, told him when he timidly inquired about gift options.

Although 50 cents was a tad lower than she expected to hear, Powell pulled down a basket from an overhead shelf, tenderly set down a tiny truffle wrapped in tulle, and handed it over in exchange for a few shiny coins.

“He was totally bowled over,” Powell recalled — as was his mother, who was so thrilled that she bought him a neck chain and sweater to show her appreciation.

He was wearing both when he walked back to the Ridgewood shop the following week to thank Powell.

“I go above and beyond to provide a really outstanding service to my customers,” Powell said recently as she sat on a stool in her tiny workshop. “I’ll bend over backwards for them.”

Powell, a 39-year-old native of England who moved to Brooklyn in 1987, is a new arrival to the craft of gift-basket making, having forsaken her original career as an oral surgery assistant more than a year ago to open up her own business.

“I’ve always had this certain ability,” Powell said, recalling the artistic knickknacks she would put together as a young adult in Wiltshire. “I would use puff paint and make Ninja turtles on T-shirts, lavender bags, everything.”

But she never really sought a professional outlet for her creativity until motivational speaker Les Brown sparked a radical change in her career path last year.

“It was almost as if the glint in his eye challenged me to do something,” she said. “I went to bed oral surgery assistant and woke up a gift basket person.”

She decided to enroll in a gift basket course, and with minimal training under her belt she launched a Web site and began operating the business out of her home.

She began playing around with assorted baskets, learning how to master the art of assembling the complicated displays.

“It’s not an easy task to balance apples and pears and oranges. I had to really become one with the apples and pears,” Powell said. But she surprised even herself with what she could achieve. “With the gift baskets, I really didn’t know that I had the ability to be this creative.”

She creates the baskets only after having spoken at length to her clients to get a sense of what they want the gift to say.

“It’s surprising. People tell so much,” she said.

The result is a custom-made present that incorporates elements of both the giver and the recipient. The baskets can include any variety of products from soaps to gourmet foods, wine and fruit, put together to reflect the theme or occasion the giver wants to capture.

When an elderly man with a penchant for gambling had open-heart surgery, the basket she created featured a happy face balloon sporting a shirt made from lottery tickets set on top of a miniature blackjack machine. A basket she made entitled “Holidays in Hawaii” recently won a national competition.

Since she often delivers the baskets herself, Powell offers an added service many of her customers do not learn about until long after the order has been placed: she snaps a picture of the recipient with the gift and e-mails a copy to the person who sent it.

“They are forever grateful,” she said.

Meanwhile, her liberal policy of offering delivery until midnight has given her a few opportunities to taste some adventure. One woman had just fought bitterly with her husband, a pilot scheduled to fly out of JFK Airport, and called about an hour before he was due to leave to place a desperate last-minute order. Powell made it to the airport just in time.

“I enjoyed that — it was like ‘Mission Impossible,’” she recalled.

Another woman sent a CD-ROM documenting her vision of what the memorial at the World Trade Center site should look like. Powell displayed it in a gift basket and personally delivered copies to both Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani.

She also sponsors an anonymous gift-giving program, called “From the Hearts of Angels,” which people can use to offer presents to people they know who are in need.

“I know that there are lots of children that never get any gifts at Christmastime,” she said.

As for herself, she moved the business from her home to a tiny storefront at 54-43 Metropolitan Ave. in April and has secured about 200 clients in her first year of operation, earning enough to get by but focusing her efforts on growing the business.

“Right now I’m kind of just planting seeds and hoping to treat myself in years to come.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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