Betty Hartman admits she is entrenched in the 20th century. And she’s proud of it.
“Everything is old-fashioned here,” she said, waving a hand across Hartman Flower & Gift Shoppe in downtown Burgettstown. “No emails. No computers. I don’t carry a cell phone. If you want me, call the land line.
“I don’t know how to use a GPS. If I tried, I’d end up in Punxsutawney.”
She does not have a computer and has never seen the shop’s website – hartmanflowerandgiftshoppe.com – which, she said, was put up by FTD, the national florist dealer network to which her business belongs.
“I’m still in the 20th century because it worked for me. People say, ‘My computer is down.’ Well, my computer is not down. My head is my computer and sometimes it may be down.”
Hartman, who will turn 80 in March, said her disinterest in modern technology has not affected her business. In fact, it remains golden, especially this year.
Hers is a gift shop that keeps on giving, one that will celebrate 50 years in July – all at 1529 Main St., all with the same owner, all with flowers and gifts.
Inside, Valentine’s Day could be anytime, not just this Thursday.
She may scowl at this, but the shop actually is modern – bright and fresh inside and out, and tidy. The front doors are painted purple, the preferred color of her establishment, which goes about 20 by 25 feet. Flowers, gifts, garden angels, boxes, wraps and other items add to an attractive palette.
But in a positive and significant way, the place is, indeed, “old-fashioned.”
Hartman Flower & Gift is a mom-and-pop shop of yore, one that used to be a foundation of so many vibrant small-town business districts in Western Pennsylvania. The difference is it has endured, surviving the advent and proliferation of malls, chain stores and big box operations that have shuttered so many local storefronts and diminished the communities they had served.
“The only thing saving small businesses,” she said, “is the service you give. I can’t compete with the Giant Eagles and Shop ’n Saves on prices.”
Nevertheless, her shop does compete, thanks to the diligence and efficiency of the owner and her staff. Spouses Sybil and Bill Bundy are full-time employees, Sybil assisting Hartman, Bill driving the delivery truck. Sybil, of Burgettstown, has worked there for 34 years.
Two others work part time during busy periods.
If you listen to Hartman speak, feel her energy, you can envision the shop lasting another half-century – with her hell-bent on being there all the way.
“As long as my health holds out, I’ll come here,” said Hartman, Slovan-born and bred and a longtime Burgettstown resident. “When I can’t put the key in the door, I will retire. What would I do with myself?”
What she has done since opening July 26, 1963 – four months before the Kennedy assassination – is work six days a week.
She learned a lot about operating a business from her father, John Delfrate. For 40 years, he owned Delfrate Packing Co. in Slovan, which employed 75 and produced, packaged and sold bologna, sausages, hot dogs and similar meats under the Delmar brand. There was a lot of industry in the vicinity, including Weirton Steel, that provided a steady flow of customers.
He eventually sold his enterprise to American Foods, which is now in Washington.
At age 30, eager to start a business, she discussed prospects with her husband, Michael.
“He said, ‘This town could use another flower shop,’”Hartman said. After brief deliberation, she decided to give the other florist a run for it.
She attended a floral school in Cleveland, then prepared to launch her new endeavor with a plan: try to draw on the reputation her father had established. Hartman included her maiden name in ads for the newspaper, the Burgettstown Enterprise.
“I thought that name recognition might help.”
It did. Within six months of opening, she received a call from a woman who was living in Alabama. Her husband, a prison warden, had just died and his body had been shipped back home for burial.
“She wanted to order some flowers,” Hartman said. “She called and said she recognized my maiden name.”
The Alabama couple had grown up in the Cross Creek area, and the widow had seen the Enterprise ad after returning to her hometown,
Hartman’s enterprise eventually became Burgettstown’s lone florist and has endured since.
One difference between the early ’60s and now, she said, is “we started as primarily a flower shop, but over the years, we’ve had more and more gifts.” Another is that “we now do 90 percent of our business over the phone.”
Life as a small-town merchant can be fraught with challenges, physically and financially.
She had both knees replaced at the same time in 2004 and has had shoulder surgery. Yet today she is able to stand for long hours, thanks largely to her general good health – and, she said, the shop’s wooden floors that preserve her legs and back.
“If this were concrete, I would have retired years ago.”
Turbulent economic times have threatened her business – the Great Recession hit it hard in 2008 and 2009. But they never overwhelmed the shop.
Apparently, the bookkeeper – Hartman – has been doing her job. She said the finances are nearly as healthy as she is.
“In 50 years,” she said, “I’ve never taken out a loan. I pay my bills on time. The interest eats you up.”
Although she lost her husband of 51 years in 2003 – Michael Hartman was a foreman with Langeloth Molybdenum (now Langeloth Metallurgy) – Betty Hartman does have family nearby. Her daughters, Michelle King and Debra Carter, live in Wexford and Weirton respectively, and she has four grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
In the meantime, she can be found – almost without exception – in her shop during business hours: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
Unlike most of the workaday world, she relishes returning to the job every Monday instead of dreading it.
“Sunday night, I look forward to going to work the next day and seeing people.”