Every new day is a chance to make please customers when you’re in the flower business. See how this longtime Rockford flower shop, now under new ownership, is keeping customers happy.
It’s 1:30 on a Saturday afternoon, and the sweet-scented shop is bathed in natural light that pours through huge picture windows.
There are beautifully decorated Christmas trees shimmering in the sunshine – one decked out in black, purple and silver, Broadway Florist’s signature colors.
Employees call it “The Broadway Tree.”
Anyone visiting the location at 4224 Maray Dr. in Rockford can see that this is a place where happiness happens.
“It’s different every day,” says new owner Michelle Joley, who purchased the store last December and moved it to the new location in January. “We never encounter the same thing, and it’s nice – we’re always meeting new customers.”
A Busy Morning
That particular Saturday began at 5 a.m., with florists hustling to prepare orders for a late-autumn wedding and several funerals.
“Married and buried,” says wedding designer Tina Kot, who has been with the company for five years. “You have to be able to adapt.”
The floor of the shop tells the story: little bits of green everywhere, ribbons, discarded buds that didn’t make the grade. There’s a feeling that the flurry just ended, and that even though the shop is closed on Sundays, it won’t be long until it starts all over again.
“Flowers come in on Wednesdays for weddings,” says Kot. “We have to process them and start the arrangements. Brides usually come in on Fridays to view them.”
And Saturday mornings can start early.
Still, Kot loves what she does – it’s a job that’s become a career.
“I got started in high school. The horticulture teacher was a floral designer and I got drafted at age 15,” she jokes. “I’ve been doing this for 25 years.”
A New Beginning
Michelle Joley is relatively new to the floral business. The 30-year-old grew up in Rockford and graduated from Northern Illinois University. She worked in marketing, but “I always had a goal of owning my own business one day.”
So when the floral shop, which opened in 1928, came up for sale last year, the decision to buy it felt like a perfect fit.
The building, however, didn’t.
“It was just too big,” Joley explains. “It was kind of falling apart, and there weren’t windows, so we couldn’t see out – we were running all over a large building and it just didn’t work.”
And so, in January, her staff of 12 packed up their supplies and moved three miles away, to a new location that offers plenty of light and lots of workspace, in a more manageable size.
The new Broadway Florist features a large, walk-in cooler full of roses, gerbera daisies, mums, lilies and more – many grown in a Rockford or Wisconsin greenhouse, some grown across the world – plus a showroom, four worktables, an industrial sink and lots of storage space for vases and other supplies.
“We’re more centrally located now,” says Joley.
But one thing didn’t change.
“The name ‘Broadway Florist’ means so much to Rockford,” Joley explains. “We’re changing, but we’re not changing anything about who we are. We wanted people to know that we’re the same.”
In fact, many of Broadway Florist’s employees have been with the company five to 10 years; one has been there for 18 years, and has helped Joley tremendously during this year of transition, she says.
The community seems to be embracing the new version of the shop.
Depending on the season, florists may be at work on anything from arrangements for weddings to homecoming corsages. Like all floral shops, holidays – especially Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day – bring a rush of business and Broadway Florist has to bring in back-up designers and delivery drivers.
“We have people working on both sides of the worktables those days,” Kot jokes.
Delivery driver Amy Nunez has worked at the shop since 2004, but now just lends an extra hand on holidays.
“It can be stressful – it’s a little crazy,” she says of the days that begin at 4 a.m. and end after 7 p.m. “We deliver all over, even up into Beloit, so you have to be familiar with ZIP codes everywhere, kind of like a mailman.”
Even Thanksgiving and Christmas mean double-duty. The shop prepares everything from holiday centerpieces to cemetery decorations.
And then there are the day-to-day arrangements, “things like thinking of you, thank-yous, birthdays,” says Joley, plus something always in season – simple expressions of love.
Broadway Florist is often called upon to create centerpieces for community events, like a recent fundraiser at Rosecrance.
The store’s designers decorated the kitchen of the showcase home at 3914 Eaton Dr., in Rockford, which was part of a tour to benefit the Children’s Home and Aid Society.
They take part in Rockford’s summer downtown City Market, selling flowers and meeting new customers in the fun Friday-night setting.
“There was one guy who was carrying cupcakes and bought flowers for someone – I think for his sister’s birthday,” Joley recalls, remembering the fun of being part of his “one-stop” local shopping experience.
In fact, one of Joley’s main goals for her new business is to continue to build community connections. Another is to expand the retail side beyond flowers.
Part showroom, part retail store, Broadway Florist boasts a wide selection of gift and specialty items in addition to flowers: Godiva chocolates, plush items like stuffed bears, gourmet baskets, cards and the new Ikebana vases.
“Someone gave me one and I knew we had to stock them,” says Joley of the minimalist, flat stone creations used in Japanese flower arranging and made of marble, granite or sandstone.
This holiday season, the store’s decorated trees provide creative inspiration, and every ornament is for sale.
The experienced staff can create almost anything, Joley says. They’ll even send someone out to a store for “extras” to make a balloon bouquet or a flower arrangement extra unique and special.
As wedding floral experts, Broadway Florist staff members follow emerging trends and are always ready to give advice to a nervous bride. They know what’s in season and which blooms will look best on a bride’s special day.
“We have a long form the bride can fill out – we ask about colors, venue, dresses, budget,” explains Kot.
Many weddings this past spring featured “vintage and rustic” arrangements – lots of mason jars, burlap and baby’s breath.
“But brides will bring in things they see on Pinterest, and we can do that, too,” says Joley.
As the new owner, Joley is embracing social media. The store updates its Facebook page regularly and has its own Pinterest account that features wedding ideas based on specific flowers, as well as ideas for rehearsal dinner decorations, flower girl baskets and theme weddings.
“We watch all the wedding shows on television and one of the girls here even has a florist friend in California. We ask her, ‘What are you guys doing out there?’” Joley says.
“You don’t necessarily even need an idea – just tell us your color scheme. We have a ton of books to look through, and we actually like it when brides let us show our creativity.”
It’s an honor to be a part of the important events in people’s lives, from births and weddings to everyday celebrations.
“It’s a great feeling bringing smiles to people’s faces,” says Nunez, who enjoys it when people remember her as “the lady who brought me flowers.”
“People always ask who they’re from, and we don’t always know,” she says. “We just have to tell them, ‘Someone wanted you to have these because they love you.’”
She remembers delivering to one elderly woman who had never before received flowers. Nunez was tasked with bringing her 12 bouquets of a dozen roses each.
“I had all these roses in my car,” she laughs. “The lady ran out of space in her house! But it really is a joy.”
Joley agrees. “Flowers bring happiness – it’s nice to watch people’s reactions and be part of the surprise. Sometimes we know before the people getting the flowers that something special is happening, and it’s fun – we always keep the secret.”