by Carole Verona
Florence Maloumian, 73, says that she opened Lavender Hill Home, her store at 8121 Germantown Avenue, 15 years ago without a plan. But by the end of November, she is leaving the business with a solid strategy in place. “I’m not retiring. I’m transitioning to something else,” she said, as she prepares to turn the business over to Richard Martinez, who has worked with her for 10 years. “The name will be the same, but it will be his store.”
The ease with which she ran the business for 15 years is reflected by a sign on the door that says the shop is open from 11 to 5 on Wednesdays through Saturdays, with the rest of the week being hit or miss. ”We’ve gotten much more structured over the years, but I’ve left that sign on the door just to give myself enough time to be out hunting for merchandise,” said Florence, whose husband Richard is the former owner (now retired) of Maloumian Oriental Rugs in Mt. Airy.
“I don’t want to miss a sale, so through the years I’ve taken that liberty. Because I also have my cell phone number on the door, periodically I get calls on a Monday or a Tuesday. If someone is at the door and calls me, and I’m close by, I’ll say, ‘I’ll be right there.’ I’ve tried to accommodate my customers as best as I can into my own schedule to try to keep my life somewhat normal.”
Originally from the Albany area, Florence moved to Philadelphia 48 years ago and has lived in Chestnut Hill with her husband, Richard, for 38 years. She was always interested in art and the decorative arts but became an elementary school teacher because “it’s difficult in the art world.” She taught school for a few years, including two years in the Philadelphia School System. When her children were in school, she substituted in the art department at Germantown Friends School and studied art whenever she could. “Art has always been a focus and a passion for me,” she stressed.
Eventually, Florence became involved as a vendor with the The Secret Garden Co-op in Chestnut Hill. When someone suggested that she open her own place, she thought she’d give it a try. “I certainly didn’t think I’d do it for more than a year. But here it is 15 years later.”
She started out by going to estate sales. “Initially, I looked for garden furniture and garden accents, especially vintage pieces with a French country look. Then, my collection evolved into every category. I needed something for the walls, so I started buying artwork, then lighting. I also would buy old furniture pieces and repaint them. It’s such fun to see things take on a new look.”
Reminiscing on her 15 years as a Chestnut Hill business owner, Florence said, “This is a demanding business; there’s no question. For someone my age, the online world is challenging, but I have loyal clientele and a website that a customer created for me. It’s very special. I also have wonderful business neighbors on the street. Everybody’s very simpatico. We all get along; we help one another; we advise one another. It’s that kind of thing.
“Recently, one of the shop owners came up with calling this part of Chestnut Hill ‘The Center of the Hill.’ We think that’s a good idea, especially since the Fresh Market will be coming, and a lot more is now happening down at this end of the street. I think things will only get better here because some great shops have come in, and a few more are coming in soon. In fact, my husband and I are going to eventually sell our house and take one of the condos over the market.”
What are Florence’s plans for retirement? “I know it’s a cliché to say it’s time to do other things, but it is time to do other things. At 73, I’m certainly aware of the clock. I want to be free of any responsibility — and that’s the bottom line — so that I can pick up and go wherever I want and do what I want.
“We have grandchildren in Florida, so we will continue to spend our winters there and do some other traveling. I am confident that I can do a lot in the art world. I will pursue art in some form with more freedom and with reckless abandon.” Of course, she will also help Richard Martinez with the transition by doing some of the buying for him.
Richard, who declined to give his age, currently lives in Springtown, near Bethlehem, and will move here soon. “I’ve known Florence for years,” he said, “and we have always worked so well together. She has a great eye and is a great buyer. I’m looking forward to this opportunity to take over the business.”
Florence is positioning the transition as a 15-year anniversary celebration rather than as a retirement. She’s commemorating the event by having a big sale that will run through mid-November. “I have a lot of merchandise here, and it’s all mine. I’m hoping to move it. I’ve got great things, and the prices have always been good to begin with. My husband is always telling me about estate sales that are coming up. But I keep reminding him, ‘I can’t buy anymore; I’m out of this business!’”