Tull's Florist marks 85 years in West Newton
After 50 years of making floral arrangements for special moments in the lives of his customers – birthdays, proms, weddings and funerals – Kenneth T. Forsythe Jr. wants to retire from his Tull's Florist in West Newton, which has been in business for 85 years.
“It's the time of life to hand over the baton (to another person). Approaching the next plateau, I should be smelling the roses, not arranging them,” the 68-year-old Forsythe joked.
Forsythe has been trying to sell the floral business at 307 S. Sixth St., and his adjacent two-story house, for the past three years, but without much luck. Forsythe placed the business and his house on the market three years ago for $900,000, then dropped the price to $699,000 in 2012, and lowered it again to $499,000.
“I hope I can find someone who can appreciate this place,” Forsythe said.
Forsythe said he has no deadline for selling what he called a “turnkey business” – a client base, a shop, products, storage space and supplies.
If he does find a buyer, Forsythe said he figures he will miss the people part of his florist business.
“I've known so many wonderful families over the years. I feel like I've married and buried half of them. I think the only thing I will really miss is the wonderful people,” Forsythe said.
What he won't miss about running his own business is the regimented schedule, making sure flowers are done and delivered in time for weddings and funerals.
“I have canceled so much of what I wanted to do, for the business,” Forsythe said.
Forsythe, who used to live in Greensburg and Hempfield, said he started working for the Tull family just three weeks after graduating from high school. He had gone to numerous flower shops in Fayette County, but heard a familiar refrain – they wanted someone with experience and weren't interested in giving the newly minted graduate a chance to gain that experience.
Despite the rejections, “I knew I had that inclination,” to work in a floral shop, Forsythe said.
Forsythe said he was running out of flower shops in the area where he could apply for a job, when he went to Tull's Florist, a shop run by sisters Evelyn and Gladys Tull. Evelyn Tull was not any more receptive to a newcomer than the other shops, but Gladys gave him an on-the-spot “interview” that consisted of making a casket spray at a table in the shop. He did well enough to impress Gladys Tull that he could make floral designs and was hired.
“I got a job doing what I thought I wanted to do,” Forsythe said.
The flower shop in a residential section of the borough was started in 1929 by George Tull, who moved to West Newton after serving as a groundskeeper at the expansive estate of a wealthy industrialist, Thomas Ryan Fortune, in Nelson County, Va. Tull's wife, Francis, designed the floral arrangements in the basement of his home while George Tull grew the flowers in a greenhouse the family built.
“They grew all their own flowers and vegetables,” in a greenhouse, said Forsythe, who remembered that Tull's had 300 rose bushes growing in a lot that now houses a dentist's office.
After their parents died, operating the business fell to the sisters, who lived together in the family home.
The greenhouse tradition was passed onto the sisters and “Tull's grew 80 percent of their product,” Forsythe said.
Gladys Tull, who died in 1976, “had a heart of gold,” Forsythe said. Evelyn, who died in 1991, did a lot of work behind the scenes to help the community, Forsythe said.
Forsythe acquired the property from Evelyn Tull's estate in 1992, according to documents in the Westmoreland County Recorder of Deeds office.
Forsythe said he never considered changing the name of Tull's to Forsythe's and had promised the family he would not eliminate the Tull name from the business.
“I wanted to carry on the Tull legacy of distinctive design, quality and quantity,” Forsythe said.
So distinctive was the style of Tull's floral shop, as well as others, that he could tell which floral shop did an arrangement without looking at the cards attached to the flowers.
“You could tell by the design. Every shop had its own design,” Forsythe said.
Forsythe said he noticed that as the years have passed, the demand for flowers at funeral viewings has declined because some families request donations be made to a charity in lieu of flowers, and cremations are more prevalent.
Forsythe said he does not have any specific plans for what he will do when he does finally get the chance to retire, although he would like to do some work helping people in a hospital.
He envisions doing “whatever I feel like doing at the time,” Forsythe said.
Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-836-5252.