For the Relles family, flowers are in their blood.
At their J Street florist shop in midtown Sacramento, three generations have lovingly created bouquets and floral arrangements for every occasion.
This week, they celebrate a milestone of their own: Relles Florist turns 70.
To mark its birthday, the 6,500-square-foot shop recently unveiled a huge mural on its back wall – an homage to Sacramento’s flower history – painted by Christine Shields and Alicia Relles, granddaughter of the shop’s founder, Ross Relles Sr.
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A World War II veteran with a knack for flower arranging, Relles Sr. opened his shop on Oct. 19, 1946, with his wife, Margaret. (He died in 1972.) Their children all joined the family business – at least for a while.
“Every weekend, every holiday, every summer, we worked in the shop,” recalled Jim Relles, Ross’ son and now the company’s president. “We were all expected to work here. Dad always drove a station wagon so we could use it every holiday for deliveries. Now, we all drive minivans.”
Tom Relles, Jim’s older brother and a partner in the shop for almost 40 years, retired in 2008. JoAnn Relles Bradley, his sister, is the company’s secretary and treasurer. Alicia and Colby Relles, Jim’s children, both work at the shop, too. The company has 17 year-round employees, many of them who have been there for more than a decade.
“I like the freedom to be creative,” said design manager Carolyn Salmon, a 23-year Relles employee. “We have a very diverse clientele. (Arrangements) don’t have to all be traditional. Every piece is different.”
With its midtown location and longevity, Relles Florist has created countless arrangements for its Sacramento clientele.
“They’ve always done wonderful arrangements, plus their location makes them really convenient,” said Dell Richards, one of many longtime customers.
The shop remains busy year-round. During the “slow” summer season, Relles averages about 50 orders a day. On peak holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, the shop makes 1,000 deliveries plus another 500 in-store arrangements for walk-up sales. Prom season and fall formals bring avalanches of corsage, boutonniere and wristlet orders. Bridal bouquets dominate June.
“Nowadays, brides come in with 500 Instagram photos,” Jim Relles said. “That’s different.”
A keystone to the company’s longevity has been its adaptability. Relles Florist has kept pace with consumer tastes and vast changes within the cut flower industry. Orders now are more likely to come in via computer than telephone.
“Our whole world has changed,” Jim Relles said. “We used to have four or five competitors in the phone book. Now, we have 100,000 online.”
When Ross Relles Sr. opened his flower shop, the inventory likely was all California grown. He bought most of his stock from San Francisco’s flower market.
Now, long-stemmed roses most likely grew in Ecuador or Colombia. Many cut flowers come from Asia or Europe, too. But the diversity of available flowers has never been greater.
“I really love all of them,” said Jim Relles, who still brings a bouquet home to his wife, Marilyn, every week. “The new varieties of roses are just unbelievable. We used to have 10 colors; now, we have more than 30.”
Recently, California’s floriculture industry has made a comeback with a new emphasis on locally grown, seasonal flowers as an accompaniment to locally grown food.
“We buy local whenever we can,” said Colby Relles, the company’s flower specialist. “We believe in supporting farm-to-table or -vase with quality product and offer a diverse selection of plants as well.”
Added Jim Relles: “We are so lucky here in California to still have wonderful flowers. California still provides 90 percent of the flowers grown in the U.S. We buy about 60 to 70 percent California-grown flowers.”
Customers don’t want the same old flower varieties, he noted. They want something that feels unique and special.
Gardenias and carnations, for example, have fallen out of favor. Meanwhile, sunflowers and alstroemerias have become staples.
“If you want to stay in business, you have to adapt,” he said. “I’m always willing to try something new.”
While the flowers themselves may change, the feelings that go with them remain the same.
“The biggest thing in our business is making people happy,” Jim Relles said. “We don’t really sell flowers. We sell emotions.”