Last month, Samantha Hillkewicz purchased Boulevard Florist, a staple of Center Moriches for nearly four decades, realizing a dream that first took root while taking marketing and entrepreneurship courses at William Floyd High School, where she graduated in 2016.

“It’s a big learning curve for me,” Hillkewicz, 22, of Shirley, said. Good thing she brought the right partner along for the ride. “I’m learning a lot, and what better teacher than your mom.”

Hillkewicz’ mother, Maria Smith, who had been a florist since she was 15 years old, learned the store was for sale through a co-worker.

Hillkewicz opened the shop’s doors under her ownership on Nov. 28, and the proceeding weeks have been busier than either she or her mother predicted.

While Hillkewicz said she did not know what to expect, Smith, 52, of Shirley, believed they would see a select group of shoppers when they opened their doors. The shop is located at 272 Main St.

“We thought it would be a lot more Christmas this time of year, reds and whites, and I have plenty of that” Smith said. “But, you never know what’s going to happen.”

While they have been turning out orders for Christmas gifts, Hillkewicz and Smith have already begun serving customers for a variety of occasions.

The duo dart from customers at the front counter to their workspace in the back, where they craft and wrap a half-dozen bouquets for birthdays, anniversaries and centerpieces in a single hour.

‘A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has strained small businesses, Hillkewicz pounced on the chance to run her own flower shop after hearing the store was up for sale.

After a one-year stint and Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island for entrepreneurship, she graduated from SUNY Oneonta, where she studied child and family studies, this past May.

She began working at Sunrise Senior Living in East Setauket, but when she heard about the opportunity to buy Boulevard Florist, she said the decision to change course was an easy.

“I loved my degree — don’t get me wrong — but this was like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, you know?” she said. “This like, just came up and I was like, ‘I can’t let this go.'”

She believes that her college studies also made her blossom into a florist concerned for her customer’s feelings. While she begins exchanges with a bright smile, she said she learned to “switch gears” when customers are seeking flowers for funerals and other somber occasions.

“You have to have a very sympathetic and empathetic side. So it’s not all butterflies and rainbows all the time.”

Preparing for a shutdown — just in case

Hillkewicz said she plans to complete a new website for Boulevard Florist in the coming weeks, where customers will be able to purchase her flowers online. Until then, customers can place orders through Facebook and Instagram, which she said has been his biggest marketing tool.

Digital sales areessential while the COVID-19 pandemic and the fear of another shutdown of Main Street businesses loom overhead.

“We’ve already been thinking of things like how can we stay open without our doors open,” Hillkewicz said.

She said she is prepared to implement a curbside pickup option if COVID-19 restrictions are reinstated. “Well what’s gonna happen next week?” she said. “The uncertainty scares me cause now this is my only job. I need it to succeed.”

Hillkewicz said Boulevard Florist has already been delivering orders in a “ring-and-run” fashion, most recently to a husband who ordered flowers for he and his wife’s anniversary, after they both tested positive for COVID-19

A dream that runs in the family

Smith started her career as a florist at Sunshine Florist in Wantagh when she was 15. She worked her way up from washing buckets and cleaning floors to manager and head designer.

She left in 2006, opened a daycare in her home and began working as a real estate agent to have more time to raise Hillkewicz and her son, Eddie.

Hillkewicz said she enjoyed watching her mother work with flowers at the florist and at home throughout her childhood.

“My favorite days would be us at Home Depot or where ever, grabbing all different flowers and gardening,” Hillkewicz said. “She would always bring flowers home and we would always put them in arrangements, and I just loved watching her.”

Just like her daughter, Smith said she also had the desire to have a flower shop to call her own. “I love helping people, I love flowers — just the whole aspect of a florist is a great atmosphere,” Smith said. “New babies being born, weddings, it’s just a diverse atmosphere every day. You never know what’s gonna happen that day, who’s gonna walk in the front door.”

Smith said she is still surprised that she and her daughter have embarked on this joint venture. “Never thought we would be doing it together,” she said. “But you know what, I couldn’t ask for a better partner. Who do I trust more — who do I love more — besides my kids?”