By TYLER MASK
Nearly 10 years ago, Penny Wells, owner of Penny's Flower Shop in Mineral Wells and Mineral Wells native, received one of the greatest gifts of her life. Wells' Mother, Loyce Berry, spent years preparing this special gift.
When Berry began experiencing the early phases of Alzheimer’s, she finally decided it was time to unveil her long-kept secret.
Much to Wells' surprise, her mother had created a scrapbook through the years, detailing highlights of Well's career as a florist. Well's said her parents were always proud of her work.
“She told me one day, 'I've been keeping this album for you,'” Wells said. “It's very touching.”
The scrapbook dates back nearly 29 years ago when Wells first opened shop inside the Baker Hotel. The span of the scrapbook covers the nine years she spent at the Baker, and continues to this day, as Wells still adds content occasionally. Although March 1, officially marks 29 years for Wells and her scrapbook, her story doesn't start there.
When Wells reached her early 20s, she chose to go straight into the workforce, and floral work was her choice from the very beginning. Her foot in the door is owed to John Hampton, owner of the old Cox Florist, when he reluctantly gave Wells a chance.
“I went to Cox Florist, and asked the man for a job,” Wells said. “He said, 'No,' they didn't hire inexperienced people because they would train them, then they would quit.”
Two weeks later, Wells received a call from Hampton offering her a job. The only stipulation was Wells had to work for low pay. $1.50 an hour.
Wells gladly accepted the job because she desired the experience and it was the only way to enter the field at the time.
“I don't know how anybody could learn if you didn't let them come to work,” Wells said. “Back then, you didn't hear of design schools and all that, you just went to work in a flower shop.”
During her years working under Hampton, she started out cleaning the greenhouse and shop and washing flower buckets. By her second year, she was given the opportunity to start designing arrangements.
“[I] started from the bottom, up,” Wells said. “But [Hampton] would tell me, 'Watch them when they're designing, so that you'll kind of have an idea.'”
The day Hampton finally decided Wells was ready, he stopped by her desk, placed an orchid on it and told her to “dress it.” At first, Wells was hesitant because she had never done a corsage, but Wells and Hampton were the only two at the shop and there was work to be done.
“[Hampton] said, 'I think between me and you, we can wing it.'”
After that, Wells began working hands on with flowers. Certain holidays, she was tasked to make corsages, others, she had to make arrangements. Eventually, she moved on to other projects, including funerals.
Beyond just Hampton, Wells recalls learning a lot from his wife, Angela Hampton.
“His wife was very talented,” Wells said.
Wells went on to say that John Hampton's expertise was in funeral work, whereas Angela Hampton had an eye for overall creativity. Throughout this time, the Hamptons also took Wells to design shows so she could learn about the newest trends and techniques in the industry.
Once Wells gained nearly 10 years of experience, she decided to open a flower shop of her own inside the Baker hotel. The size of her space inside the mighty 14-story building was ironically small, which Wells said was perfect for her first shop.
To start, she had one refrigerator and a few supplies. During the first five years, she worked with her small staff of one to help her with deliveries. By the time she left the Baker, Wells said business was busting at the seams; however, the move was bittersweet.
Wells' flower shop was the second to last business to move out of the Baker before its doors were closed once again. While Wells was there and the dreams to restore the Baker were still aflame, things went very well. But as the story goes, the project never made enough headway, eventually dying off. Wells and a few other business owners fought to stay in the Baker, but without financial backing for maintenance, everyone inevitably left.
When Wells moved to her current shop, her business doubled in the first year and has continued to grow since, with last year being the biggest year she has ever had. But her business isn't the only thing that has grown and changed in the industry.
Over the years, technology and techniques have drastically changed, Wells said.
“Lots of techniques have changed,” Wells said. “Used to, funeral work was done for the day of the funeral, they didn't have visitations – if they did, they didn't have the flowers... Now, they have visitations where they take [flowers] the day before. But back then, they didn't have the products that you could do stuff ahead of time, like wet foam. Back then, everything was done in Styrofoam or just vases with chicken wire squished in [them].”
Another key tool florists have today is the internet, Wells said. As opposed to phoning in orders, all florist have to do now is “wire in” orders online.
Although businesses must make money to stay open, Wells feels like her flower shop gives her an outlet to touch peoples' lives.
“I personally feel like I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing,” Wells said. “When one of my customers dies, or their loved one dies, I feel their pain – I've even been moved to tears. They all feel like family after you do business with them for years. And when they're suffering and hurting, you want to do the best job you can to try to ease their pain.”
Wells said humbly that it took her several years to understand her calling, but there is no place she would rather work than a flower shop.