With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, Morgan Hill residents can once again turn to a local staple to surprise loved ones and significant others with a heart-shaped box of chocolates and bouquet of long-stemmed roses.
The Flower Cottage of Morgan Hill, whose headquarters just south of downtown at 16815 Monterey Road suffered a devastating fire only a few weeks ago, has re-opened its doors at a new location under new – but very familiar – ownership.
“We’ll never forget the date,” said Maggie Mendoza, the store’s new co-owner.
Mendoza is referring to the gloomy morning of Jan. 15, when Flower Cottage employees arrived to a chaotic scene: firefighters were hurriedly putting out flames at the business, which had stood in that location for more than three decades.
Mendoza had been working at the quaint cottage for eight years and was the store manager at the time of the blaze. She was not opening the shop that day, but was quickly notified of the crisis.
“I thought it was a joke,” she said. “I said, ‘this is not funny.’ I cried.”
Floral designer Jerry Ayala, who is now co-owner with Mendoza at the new location on 35 North First St. in downtown Morgan Hill, was one of the first employees on the scene that morning.
“It was really, really sad. I was surprised because I didn’t think that could happen,” said Ayala, a floral designer of 17 years who had worked at the local flower shop for the past nine. “We worked like a family there. That’s why (Mendoza) was sad at what she saw in there. She got depressed, but she asked us to continue the shop.”
And that’s exactly what Ayala and Mendoza are doing – just in time for one of the busiest holidays for a flower shop.
“Valentine’s is really, really close. We have really, really tight time to do this,” said Ayala, who on Thursday was hustling to execute 20 delivery orders. He estimates another 100 or so more for the Feb. 14 romantic holiday.
“But we are working really hard to keep the customers and get that business,” he resolved.
According to Mendoza, she and Ayala are still waiting to receive their business license in the mail – which should come in the next few days. As soon as that happens, they’ll host a soft opening to accommodate Valentine’s Day orders, with a grand opening slated for the following week.
“We’re really not even officially open yet, but we still are having people coming in requesting orders for future dates. We’re taking future orders now,” said Mendoza, who welcomes all clientele to place orders by calling (408) 779-6175. “We’re still waiting for some of the little details like business license fees and stuff like that. We’re kind of unofficially working and getting ready to work, officially.”
The co-owners moved into the new store, previously an antique shop next to Maurizio’s Italian Restaurant, on Feb. 1. In that short timespan, they’ve put their noses to the grindestone.
The new location has a wider showroom than the previous cottage, but not as much storage space in the rear of the building. Ayala has a workshop in a room behind the counter and there is another side storage area.
“My boss, Pat (Samples), she loves antiques. It’s one of her hobbies,” Ayala said. “So I think that makes this a perfect place. We can even bring some stuff from her to display.”
Patricia and David Samples took over ownership of the Flower Cottage of Morgan Hill in 1992 from her parents, Dan and Sophie Ortez.
The Ortez’s originally launched their flower business in 1975 in a separate location. Two years later, they purchased the nearby cottage property at 16815 Monterey Road, where Patricia began learning the family business before eventually taking the helm alongside her husband.
“I was 27, I think, when I took over,” Patricia Samples recalled. “I’m too old to continue now. That’s why I just gave them the business. They’re young. They still have a lot of time to put into it.”
The cause of the fire is still undetermined, according to Samples, but an insurance adjuster that inspected the building believes it was an electrical fire that was sparked from an old wall heater for the bathroom. Samples added that the heater was never used or turned on. Shelving used for bridal paraphernalia also blocked it from employees who didn’t even know it was there.
“I don’t know what made it go on,” said Samples. “I’m devastated. I loved the business. It’s a wonderful business. I just can’t fathom starting over. Everything is lost except what they could pull out. I told them to use anything they can.”
“Pay it forward” is the term Samples uses in passing the business along to Mendoza and Ayala – who, quite like their previous boss, have dedicated their lives to making the local flower store a welcoming place for locals to turn to, no matter the occasion.
“We do everything like weddings, birthdays, funerals and other events. We do it all,” said Ayala. “They can pick out whatever they want. If they have any ideas, we can help them with that. We can do any styles. We can get any kind of flowers for them.”
The new owners no longer have the luxury of a built-up inventory from years of decorating for major events in people’s lives. But they have the experience in the flower industry, a few pointers from their old boss and the grandest of holidays in Valentine’s Day to help jumpstart their dreams.
“Same people, same work, same rules – just a different location,” said Mendoza, who hopes to use Samples as a mentor and someone to lean on for advice. “We’re very excited. It’s something we worked hard at where we were and now we have more control and new ideas of what we want to do.”