Laura Haftel: Tugging Along 15 Years Strong

Do you have a list of places that you consider classic Winter Park? If so, chances are Tugboat & the Bird is pretty high up there.

Words by Dana Nichols |  Photo by Jessica Friend

This Park Avenue gem is owned by Laura Haftel. Almost 20 years ago, Laura was a buyer for Macy’s and later ran 10–15 stores for the Gap. When her husband, Matt, was admitted to Stetson University for law school, they packed up and moved to Orlando. Not long after, Matt and Laura had two children, William and Gracie.

When her children were ages 2 and 4, Laura decided the travel for work was just too much. She realized that she needed a schedule that worked better for her family. When she found out that a children’s boutique in Winter Park was for sale, Laura knew she could put all her skills to work. The Haftels purchased Tugboat & the Bird (tugboatandthebird.com), which they have owned for 15 years.

Tugboat & the Bird sells perfectly curated kids clothing, toys and gifts. Through the years, they’ve expanded from just special occasion and traditional clothing to include everyday outfits for little ones. There’s a variety of pricing and styles, but one thing is true for every clothing item in the store: they must pass the touch test. Laura doesn’t purchase anything she hasn’t seen and felt in person to ensure that all the clothes are comfortable for little ones.

For Laura, being part of the community is one of the biggest joys of owning the store. “I love working with our customers; they are the heart of our brand, and they’re amazing.”

Though running a business was more work than she expected, it afforded Laura the flexibility she needed to be more present with her family. When her kids were young, Laura would leave every day to pick them up from school. She credits a fantastic sales team with giving her the freedom to leave the shop in their hands each afternoon.

Now that they’re older, Laura’s kids are part of the business too. When she was a fashion-focused tween, Gracie was the inspiration for Tugboat & the Bird’s sister brand, Pink Oranges, a shop for older kids. Today, Gracie handles all of Tugboat & the Bird’s social media, helps with buying and has a hand in the paperwork and accounting. She’ll be heading to Rollins College after high school. William is a computer engineering major at George Washington University, but he still handles much of the store’s website programming.

Laura acknowledges that it’s hard when your kids move away, but also sees it as a positive. “If you raise your kids well — they’re happy, and they find a good environment — then you’ve done your job.”

And of course, Laura’s husband, Matt, is a part of the Tugboat team too. In addition to all he does as a father and lawyer, he can be seen on the weekends at the store unpacking boxes, fixing lights and even plunging a toilet or two.

What’s next for Laura? Now that she’s got more time on her hands, Laura plans to write a children’s book about a little tugboat and a bird, of course!

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