James and Penny Paul had a dream of owning their own business. So, as James tells it, when the couple were given an option to purchase Scott County Florist, “it was an opportunity we just couldn’t pass up.”

That’s the nutshell version of how the Campbell County couple wound up owning one of Scott County’s most established flower shops, which has a history dating back a half-century. The full version actually goes through their daughter — Meghan. She had an opportunity to job-shadow the flower shop’s out-going owner, Tracy Foust, in high school and fell in love with the line of work, discovering creativity she didn’t know she had. So, when her school-related responsibility at the shop was finished, she stayed on. And when Foust was ready to retire earlier this year, James and Penny purchased the store, knowing they were doing so to secure Meghan’s future as much as anything else.

Back to her roots

James and Penny Paul may be from Campbell County — where he works for a utility company and she has spent much of her adult life in dentistry — but that doesn’t mean it was just by chance that they wound up business-owners in Scott County.

Penny is originally from Scott County; a graduate of Scott High School. If you don’t recognize her by her married name, you might recognize her by her maiden name, Penny Harness. She still has lots of family in Scott County, and the couple own property on Brimstone, where they frequently stay. In fact, before she worked in dentistry, one of Penny’s first jobs was at Fruehauf in Huntsville — where she worked with Tracy Foust, before he worked in the flower business.

Meghan is also a Scott High graduate, Class of 2016. As Penny describes it, “she is our niece by blood, but we adopted her and she’s always been just like ours.”

Now that they’ve purchased the flower shop and are getting settled in, Penny said it’s been a good experience already. In a way, it has been like coming home. She left her career in the dental field to operate the business, and is in Oneida nearly every day.

“It has been good for me,” she said. “Even though I grew up here, when James and I got married 28 years ago, I moved to LaFollette. I haven’t seen many of the people I went to high school with for years, and now I’m getting to reconnect.”

Finding a passion

It was Meghan who led James and Penny into the flower business. But Meghan, like Penny, hadn’t thought much about the flower business … until she shadowed Foust in high school.

“I’ve always liked crafts,” Meghan said. “My favorite class  in school was art class. I’ve always liked doing anything creative. When Mom said I could shadow Tracy, I couldn’t pass it up.” 

As it turned out, Meghan was a natural. “She’s very artistic,” Foust said. So when the job-shadowing program ended, Meghan stayed on. That was more than three years ago. 

Foust, meanwhile, had begun to think about retirement. He wanted more time to spend with his grandkids. He had an agreement in place with James and Penny: when he was ready to hang it up, they would purchase the shop.

“It was a little bit sooner than we expected,” Penny said, laughing. “We talked to Tracy about it back in February. At that time, he was thinking about two or three more years. Then, Memorial Day, he was like, ‘I’m ready.’ I threw my bosses for a loop when I told them I was quitting.”

James and Penny purchased the shop in June, and set about the task of learning the business.

“James has always wanted to own his own business,” Penny said. “No business in particular, but he’s always wanted to be a business owner. I remember coming into Scott County Florist when I was just a girl and looking at all the flowers and loving it, but I never thought I’d be in this business until we realized how good Meghan is at it.”

As for Foust, he isn’t out of the picture. He is still working at the shop, temporarily, as James and Penny get acclimated to the business.

“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Tracy,” Penny said. “Meghan wouldn’t be as talented as she is if she hadn’t shadowed Tracy and had him teach her so many things. And now she’s teaching me.”

Open for business

Scott County Florist had been around for a long time. Foust owned it for nearly 20 years, after purchasing it from his wife’s aunt, Norma Jean Smith. But the shop moved back in December, from its long-time home on the Four Lane section of Alberta Street in Oneida to its current location at Oak Grove, next-door to the former Big John’s food mart. It’s a small town, and word travels fast — but, apparently, not fast enough. Tucked away in a small strip mall between a convenience store and an auto repair shop, the flower store doesn’t have the visibility it did as a stand-alone unit on the Four Lane, and some people mistakenly think it has closed.

“I run into a lot of people who know my face (from the shop) and they say, ‘Are you even still open anymore?’” Meghan said. Many of them are Foust’s long-time customers, who are under the mistaken impression that the shop closed when he retired.

But the shop is open — from 9-5 on weekdays and from 9-1 on Saturdays. And the Pauls plan to stay right where they’re at. They see it as an ideal location. With First National Bank set to build on the opposite side of the street, Oak Grove is about to become a busier part of town.

They’re also placing their own mark on the business. Among the improvements: more home decor items for people who might not like fresh-cut flowers or floral arrangements. Meghan has a knack for memorial jewelry, and her hand-crafted items are being added to the store. And other merchandise is also being added, such as items from Tay’s Hope Chest, the business venture of Taylor Stephens. 

“We are just trying to help out the community,” Penny said. “Everything we buy, we try to buy local. We want to help people out who may not have their own business spot — just things to try to give back to the community.”

Creating flowers — and smiles

The flower business is a busy business — “a lot of people don’t know all the time involved; it’s not a Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5 thing,” Foust said — and the Pauls spend most of every weekend at the shop. Outside of Valentines Day and Memorial Day — the two busiest times of year for any flower shop — funerals dominate the shop’s time. Then there are birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, and the list goes on.

As the Pauls learn the business — “We’re just trying to have a successful business, one customer at a time; we don’t know any other way to do it,” Penny said — they’re quickly realizing that the best part of the job is putting smiles on people’s faces. It’s a sentiment that, separately, Foust echoed, saying that the smiles have always been the most rewarding part of his day.

“It’s fun to see people’s faces when they get the flowers,” Penny said. “Even when someone comes in to get flowers when a loved one passes away, it’s just knowing that this is the last thing they’re doing for their loved one, and they chose us. We take pride in that and try to do everything we can to make everything look beautiful for them.”

This article is the September 2019 installment of Business Spotlight, presented by the Scott County Chamber of Commerce on the third week of each month as part of the Independent Herald’s Back Page Features series. A print version of this article can be found on Page B8 of the September 19, 2019 edition of the Independent Herald.