- March 3, 2020
When Rilla Tomyn first took over Betty J’s Florist 20 years ago, she was given an integral piece of advice.
“The guy that sold me my first Teleflora package said, ‘OK, this is what you’ve got to know: When you buy a flower shop, never change the location, the phone number or the name,’” Tomyn said.
For 50 years, Betty J’s Florist has stood on the corner of Bluford Avenue and East McKey Street. Now, Tomyn and her team are starting a new chapter for Betty J’s with a move to Winter Garden.
“I’ve been consistent for almost 20 years — I’ve kept all of those,” she said. “Now I’m off on a new adventure. The location is changing, but we’re just two-and-a-half miles away, and we’re going to bring a lot of exciting things to the table.”
Betty J’s Florist was started 50 years ago by Betty Jean Brimer and her family. Upon Brimer’s retirement, Elizabeth Longcoy — Tomyn’s aunt — bought the flower shop as a gift to her niece.
“I think Betty wanted somebody that was from here that knew the community to take over and grow the shop,” Tomyn said. “I had no idea what I was stepping into — no idea. … When you suddenly are the owner of a storefront in your hometown, it changes you.”
Tomyn took over the floral legacy nearly 20 years ago, following Longcoy’s death. She and her team have their loyal customer base in Ocoee, many of whom are known by name. The business grew steadily, even in the face of a pandemic.
But the building Betty J’s has inhabited for the last half-century was sold this past summer, forcing Tomyn to decide how to proceed.
“I found out that the building had sold, and you sort of fall apart,” Tomyn said. “It is an emotional attachment, and I would have stayed there forever if something hadn’t given me a nudge. We spent a couple of days trying to figure out which direction to go, what to do.
“We were ready to have some fun and show off and branch out,” she said. “So, Winter Garden was just calling — we could hear it calling — but we didn’t know how to do it. We were in Ocoee, it was the building that the shop had been in forever, and people do not just pick up from a shop that’s been in an area for 50 years and change the location. But we felt confident enough to do it and we were ready to have some fun, branch out and have an adventure.”
She and her team began looking at different properties before they found their new home in a renovated building at 403 S. Dillard St.
“I walked in and it was just a shell — it had been a day care — and I just started crying and couldn’t stop,” she said. “I almost was sobbing, and it was a feeling that I had come over me that, ‘Oh my gosh, this is home.’ From that moment on, I knew that this is where we had to be.”
This year has been tough for many people, and many in the floral industry were impacted heavily by COVID-19.
That wasn’t the case for Betty J’s. When the lockdown first began, Tomyn almost closed the shop temporarily. Her head floral designer, John Taylor, encouraged her to remain open. After all, their customers needed them.
As it turned out, their customers came through for them, too.
“We became essential, because of all the things we were able to help people do as far as communicating with their loved ones,” Tomyn said. “It was about people sending flowers, sending chocolates, sending bears, sending balloons … and it just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”
Because of the community support, Tomyn said, Betty J’s numbers are better than they’ve been in the last couple of years. That same support is what allowed the team to spread its wings and do what it’s doing now in Winter Garden.
“It brought us closer together, and it gave us the confidence to go beyond something like a pandemic and continue our business and what we do,” Tomyn said. “It’s not about the numbers, really. It’s about the gift that we can help people give. It has taught me a lot this year. … There’s something about the heart that has been in this year.”
Taylor added that Betty J’s is fortunate to be growing during a time when many flower shops didn’t make it.
“We are so blessed with business, because our industry is really suffering through COVID,” Taylor added. “So we’re lucky. We’ve got to take care of our client base, no matter what. We are capable of … changing with the times and modernizing and keeping ourselves well abreast to the current trends, and everything is forever changing.”
Although the new Betty J’s Winter Garden location is now open, Tomyn expects to continue operations at the Ocoee location through New Year’s Eve. The move began toward the end of October and is picking up momentum.
Of course, leaving the storefront Tomyn has known for decades is emotional.
“I’m going to miss the corner there in Ocoee,” she said. “I’ve known that corner for 60 years, you know? … I’m going to miss the customer base that comes in there all the time. We’ll get a whole new customer base here, which I’m looking forward to. There’s a lot of people from Winter Garden that have come over to see us over there, and they all were sharing in that excitement.
“There are people that are not going to be happy with us, but we can’t stop our growth and our writing of the next chapter,” Tomyn said. “They just have to come a couple miles over, and we’ll have something wonderful to show them.”