This story originally appeared in The Philadelphia Tribune.
Paul Beale’s Flowers has marked 50 years of serving as a community staple.
The business was launched May 1, 1971, by Paul Beale Sr. and his wife Altermese. He worked as a manager for Stein’s Florist for 15 years before branching out on his own.
Altermese Beale recalled the days when she and her husband manned the West Oak Lane-based flower shop by themselves.
“My husband and I started out and it was just he and I in here,” Altermese Beale said as she reflected on her early days in the business. “I didn’t know one flower from another, but I learned.”
“We had struggles but we worked through them,” she continued.” It was tough but we made it. It was a wonderful journey.”
She’s seen how the Ogontz Avenue commercial corridor has changed throughout the years. As other businesses on the avenue closed their doors, the flower shop remained as a community mainstay.
Altermese Beale, who is 90, still works at the shop at 7220 Ogontz Ave. She is joined by four generations of family members.
Paul Beale Sr.’s daughter, Paulette Beale Harris said he taught them all about the flower business and the importance of working hard. He died in 2020.
“My dad was 92 when he passed, so he had that old school value in him,” said Beale Harris, who runs the business.
“The only thing my dad did was love his wife, love his family and work every day.”
Beale’s grandson, Paul David Beale Sr., takes pride in knowing that the family business has survived for 50 years.
“Just the mere fact that it’s our business gives me more incentive and drive to get up early, get in here early and do the extra things to keep it going because I know the struggles that my grandparents went through to even start in the first place,” he said.
“You see so many times in our Black businesses the parents start it and when the kids get older they venture off somewhere else and then the business goes down. In our case we’re continuing the legacy.”
Whether it’s providing floral arrangements for special occasions such as anniversaries, birthdays, weddings or funerals, the Beales take pride in being there for their clients and developing longtime customers.
“We’re hands on,” Beale Harris said. “When they come in they know they’re going to see a Beale.”
She can recall occasions when they’ve done a customer’s wedding and their children’s and grandchildren’s proms.
When the pandemic hit last March, Beale Harris almost panicked as she figured out how the business could adapt.
“It started off rocky because we had to readjust,” she explained. “We just had to do some readjusting and after that we got back into the swing of things.”
“We’ve been able to hold our own,” she continued. “We just tightened our belts.”
The business faced various challenges because of the pandemic. Last year, they were impacted by the flower shortage as growers struggled to adapt during the public health crisis.
“When Mother’s Day hit I think because people weren’t able to see each other the flower industry was bombarded and it really wasn’t enough supply for the demand,” Beale Harris said. “We weren’t prepared.”
Restrictions to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus caused proms, weddings, and church events to be canceled, which lead to a slump in flower sales.
Beale Harris said the Great Recession marked the last time their business faced such a rough patch.
“I don’t know which one was more challenging,” Beale Harris said as she compared the two periods. “Flowers are not a necessity, it’s a luxury. So when you start talking about discretionary income, you can usually cut flowers out. That’s why you have to continue to find a way to remain relevant.”
To keep relevant, she said they send email alerts for birthdays and anniversaries to their customers and ensure that they keep offering a quality product.
“You can’t let that go just because things are a little rocky,” Beale Harris said. “You still have to keep up that quality.”