By Bob Uphues
Betty LeClere had already put in a full career in the retail industry — more than two decades as a manager for Osco drug stores — when she decided to strike out on her own.
This weekend, she'll mark her 20th anniversary as the owner/operator of Betty's Flower and Gifts at 9138 Broadway Ave. in Brookfield. In honor of the milestone, the store will host an open house on both Dec. 8 and 9 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
"It was a fast 20 years," said LeClere.
The impetus to start her career as a retail florist had its roots in Osco's decision in 1998 to move its corporate office from Oak Brook to Salt Lake City. With a move to Utah out of the question, LeClere took advantage of Osco's policy of paying tuition for employees who wanted to further their educations.
She signed up to attend the American Floral Art School in Chicago and got hands-on experience working at a flower shop in Berwyn. One year later, she and her husband Paul took the leap, buying the former Ardon's Flower Shop on Broadway Avenue.
LeClere said she had eyed a store in Western Springs but was convinced by her husband that Brookfield was the right place for the new family business. After all, the LeCleres had lived in the village for almost 30 years at the time. Paul, who died in 2009, worked for the Burlington Northern Railroad and served as a village trustee.
They also scouted locations on Ogden Avenue but found a home instead near Eight Corners.
"I like the area," LeClere said of her business' longtime home. "Ogden Avenue wasn't as warm a feeling as we have over here."
At first, business wasn't driven so much by flowers as it was by Beanie Babies, which were a phenomenon at the time.
"I told Paul, 'I don't think I'll ever sell flowers,'" LeClere said of the store's early days.
But the Beanie Baby craze waned and the flower shop's customer base began to grow, thanks in large part to word of mouth and connections the store made through family and friends.
"You've got to talk to everybody," LeClere said. "It's just funny, once you start talking, one thing leads to the next."
Case in point, LeClere's shop did the flowers for the wedding of Mary Vasquez, the owner of Mary's Morning Mix-Up, just a few doors to the east on Broadway Avenue. Her soon-to-be husband, Jason, looked very familiar to LeClere, who couldn't remember why she knew she'd met him before. Turns out he'd worked with Paul LeClere at the Burlington Northern.
The shop handles the typical array of floral services, from wedding and funerals to corporate affairs. LeClere says she stays up to date on what gift items to carry by talking with wholesalers and reading trade publications, but she also adds her own handmade touches, such as wreaths and ceramics.
Part of her success, she says, comes from simply being a reliable business for her customers.
"If you have hours on your door, you have to abide by those hours," she said.
LeClere is assisted at the shop by two of her children — her daughter, April Tralewski, who works three days a week, and her son, David, who also serves as a village trustee — and part-time designer Shirley Huff.
The eastern half of Broadway Avenue where the store is located has also undergone something of a change, for the better, according to LeClere, during the past two decades.
"There's a little more stability," LeClere said. "There were always a couple of stores that were in and out. All in all, I like the setup here."