There are signs at the A Flower Patch store on South Military Trail that advertise deals for mylar balloons, carnations and, of course, roses.
But it’s the sign inside the store, one leaning against a wall, that really tells a story: It’s about a popular mom-and-pop business that almost burned to the ground, and the kindness of people who helped build it back up, just in time for the holidays.
“It’s really been amazing. We feel very privileged we’re able to start again and be here,” said Todd Hillman, 62, who owns the store with his wife, Betsy, 61. “Somehow, we just kept going and the people just kept coming.”
The Hillmans, who have two grown children, ages 26 and 20, have owned the store at 3435 S. Military Trail in suburban Lake Worth for 35 years. They’ve built a loyal customer base that appreciates their floral arrangements and roses.
But one day 10 months ago, an electrical fire started in the back of the free-standing building.
Pictures stuck on that sign in the shop show the fire’s destruction, or as Todd Hillman describes it, the “skeleton of the building.”
Worse, the Hillmans — the epitome of small-business owners who had become a major part of the presidential race conversation this past year — canceled their insurance four months prior to the Feb. 15 fire in order to pay their six employees.
Todd Hillman said the day of the fire that he was proud they were able to stay open during a down economy but the fire might finally be “the thing that does it.”
What looked like the end of the road for the shop instead inspired togetherness from the community.
From the day the fire started, volunteers — from local businesses to area residents — came to help.
Michael Gruber and his wife, Toni, redid the shop’s electrical wiring and some miscellaneous decorating.
“It was really a shame,” said Michael Gruber, who has been a customer of the shop for about 22 years. “We immediately jumped into action.”
He was happy to do the work pro bono, he said, but was even more happy that he and his wife can buy their flowers at the shop again.
Michael Gruber has bought his wife cards from the store for two decades and she has saved every one, including birthdays, anniversaries and even the “I’m sorrys,” he said.
Kelsey Flanigan, 36, came to the shop Friday afternoon for the first time since the fire. Flanigan, a customer of the Hillmans for the past six years, was buying blush-colored roses for his wife on their 13th wedding anniversary.
“They have the best roses,” he said.
Months ago, the smell of smoke competed with that of roses at the shop, but now customers are again greeted with the fresh smell of flowers at the front door.
“It’s been an interesting journey,” said Todd Hillman. “It amazes me everyday.”
The Hillmans are working on getting insurance for the building, but Todd Hillman said balancing the funds to pay insurance, taxes and his employees is still as difficult as it was a year ago.
He said they were hoping to be fully back in the shop Nov. 1 before the start of the holiday season but were pleased to complete the full reopening just before Thanksgiving.
“We’re thrilled we’re in before Christmas,” Hillman said. “It’s Thanksgiving, Christmas and then Valentine’s Day. Boom, boom, boom.”
While going down the list of companies and customers who helped bring the place back together, he remembered a certain group that he credits for making sure there was a building left.
“Thank you to all the firefighters. They literally risked their lives coming in here and saved this building,” he said. “We were probably two or three minutes away from the front blowing out.”
While he’s happy to be there for his customers during Christmastime and the new year, he’s looking at Valentine’s Day as a day of celebration.
The fire that almost wiped out their livelihood struck the day after that flower-happy holiday.
“It’s going to mark a milestone,” he said, a day to say “we’re back.”
“I just can’t thank people enough. There’s some bad going on out there,” he said with widening eyes, “But there’s an awful lot of good, too.”