| Tribune Columnist
Palace of Flowers has always been a family business. Two families in 70-plus years.
The current owner, Karen Orlicki, was always with plants and flowers at the family home on Indiana 2. “I was in 4-H. So that was a start. We had a large garden with peppers, tomatoes. My father had his roses.” Her dad, Stanley, treasured and cultivated the roses and cared for them with lots of natural fertilizer (fish parts).
“We would go with buckets picking up dead fish along Lake Michigan. Can you imagine kids doing that today?” Karen said. The fertilizer did make some spectacular roses. “We knew all the rose varieties in the garden.” She was well taught.
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Her love of flowers grew into a business. She began working at Palace of Flowers in 1982 and then purchased it in 1990.
The family stays involved. Her brother, Mike, does fix-it jobs and light bulb changes. Her sister Diane Notteboom comes in for big holidays. Karen employs another designer and a delivery person.
Did you always want to have a shop? “Yes, if I couldn’t do it here, I expected to move to a big city and get a job.” She wanted to manage and create. Karen got her wish.
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Karen took floral design classes and loved the creativity. To her it is an art. “It is a joy” to create and share that. She loves being part of people’s lives.
The downside? “It is still a business. It is sometimes seven days a week. It isn’t a hobby. During the holiday season from November through Easter, the shop is busy. Then it is quiet,” she said.
There is also competition from big box stores, supermarkets and online sales. Karen could name six florist shops that have closed over the past few years. Unfortunately, it is a nationwide trend. From 2000 to 2011, there was a drop of roughly 37% in shops, according to the Society of American Florists.
Karen added big box stores don’t deliver. That makes a big difference.
The first chapter of Palace began with Joseph Labuzienski. Joe helped in an uncle’s floral shop on Western Avenue and sold insurance and real estate. During World War II, his typing skills (thanks to filling in insurance forms) kept him working in military offices. After the war, he worked in a liquor store and then opened the floral shop in 1948.
He later was joined by his brother Henry. The shop was at 2409 Lincoln Way W., South Bend. Right there on the corner of Olive and Lincoln Way.
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The brothers married sisters. Joe was married to Clara and Hank married Marcia. Later, Joe retired and Hank and Marcia ran the store. Later, Hank died and Clara continued to run the shop until it was sold to Karen.
Joe’s son Tom remembers those days. The shop was in the middle of an old-fashioned neighborhood. Mersits Grocery store and Tuesley’s Pharmacy on the other corner. Ice cream down the block. There were neighborhood churches in every direction. “Dad loved to connect with people. He loved to drop off the flowers at the church for a wedding and show the bride how to hold the flowers.”
Tom remembers delivering flowers when he was in grade school for big holidays. “The whole family worked on Valentine’s Day or Easter. Every mother had to have a corsage for Mother’s Day. My dad thrived in the business.”
The corner was purchased and the building was demolished. In 1994, Karen built a new shop at 3901 Lincoln Way W.
Karen said it has maintained its neighborhood feeling and has a steady clientele. During the pandemic, the shop stayed busy with deliveries. “People couldn’t attend a funeral or visit someone; they turned to florists. My phone rang off the hook for several months,” she said. “I’m blessed to be in this business.”
She is sure she is staying with it.
A person who deserves a few more words.
Geraldine “Gerry” Dickey, 93, died in May. She retired after 55 years of service as a secretary at the South Bend Tribune. She was the secretary to the publisher. She was an institution.
She had to suffer being close to the newsroom and the band of miscreants that occupied that space. Sort of like living close to the circus, but she took it well.
Gerry was organized and helpful to those who never had the right form. Every office needs a Gerry.
An afterthought or two (or a space filling device).
I like Jon Hamm selling insurance with Flo. Jon Hamm could sell lint.
I like the phrase “icky birdy bits” in a recent dog food commercial. Don’t like the idea of “birdie bits,” but I appreciate the creativity.
I appreciate the summer months, democracy, a free press and strawberries.
Contact Kathy at firstname.lastname@example.org.