For many in the tight-knit town of Glenside, Penny's Flowers has been with them for all of life's milestones. The mom-and-pop shop has put together bouquets for celebrations — weddings and births, school dances and graduations — and created arrangements for funerals of beloved neighbors.
A few months ago, as a teenager shopped for prom flowers, she told employees that Penny's had arranged the flowers for her mother's and grandmother's proms. Last week, a customer came in for a Rosh Hashanah centerpiece — for the 40th year in a row, said new owner Chris Drummond.
Since Penny's opened in 1937, the Montgomery County institution was fueled by the Pannepacker family's heart and hustle. Two generations of the family ran the Keswick Avenue store, named for patriarch Vincent "Penny" Pannepacker Sr. Even as the rise of online-ordering services forced many homegrown stores out of business, Penny's grew and evolved.
In a letter to customers last month, the Pannepackers announced that they were retiring and handing the reins to Drummond, 50, who also owns Plaza Flowers in Norristown.
"We truly appreciate you trusting us with all the special occasions in your life," the family wrote. "We will miss all of you dearly."
The store's name, location, and staff will remain. Drummond, who comes from a family of florists, was hand-picked by Bob Pannepacker, who had worked with him on various boards related to the flower industry.
For customers, the news was bittersweet.
"It's a loss," said Judy Steiker, 84, of Elkins Park, a customer for at least 45 years. "Although I'm sad that the Pennys have retired, I again will take myself to the store routinely."
"We're sad, but the other company, Plaza [Flowers], is also family-owned," said Angela Thompson, 59, of LaMott. "We're going to miss the Penny's folks. They know their business."
Gathered around a table at the colorful, sunlit store, the Pannepacker brothers — Vincent Jr., 79; Bob, 70; and Rick, 67 — and their wives reflected on growing up at Penny's. The brothers didn't have much of choice, they said with a laugh.
Their father, who died in 1998, first sold flowers outside a Glenside hardware store. In 1937, he bought a small storefront near the Keswick Theater. He and his wife, Emily, now 101, opened branch locations in Oreland and Elkins Park. By 1947, "Penny" had purchased his "dream corner" at Keswick Avenue and Wharton Road.
Vincent Jr. worked from the time he was 8, making boxes, gathering trash, and sweeping the floors, he said. Outside of business hours, the store phone rang to the family's house, and the three boys would alternate getting up from the dinner table to take orders, they said.
Now, of course, customers can order online — one of the many changes the store has seen.
Over the last eight decades, trends have come and gone. Companies used to hire Penny's to decorate their offices for the holidays, but after the 2008 recession, many corporate clients began decorating in-house.
Penny's has been visited by two presidents. In 2000, George W. Bush gave a stump speech outside the store and bought yellow roses for his wife, Laura. In 2008, after a talk at a nearby high school, Barack Obama stopped in to purchase white roses for his wife, Michelle, said Bob Pannnepacker's wife, Dottie.
One of the biggest and most threatening changes: Flowers are everywhere now.
"Today, you can go into any food store, any corner market, and there are flowers," said Vincent Jr. "Unfortunately, those markets have taken a lot from the flower shops. So as a result, the flower shops have to work twice as hard."
"To make half as much," Rick added.
Yet, for all that's changed in the flower business, the Pannepackers are confident Penny's will continue to thrive with Drummond at the helm.
Drummond's upbringing resembled the Pannepackers', he said, and he, too, believes personal connections can carry Penny's to its 100th anniversary and beyond. Like the Pannepackers, he has delivered flowers and seen the smiles of people receiving a surprise delivery. That gives him and the Pannepackers hope.
"I think there is a real movement in this country back to authenticity," Drummond said. "People are coming to us when they have a new baby, a wedding, a death in a family, an anniversary, an illness. It's all the really emotional times, and that's not a time for point and click."