From February to April 2020, the number of active business owners in the United States plummeted 22 percent, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, an indicator of the economic hardship brought about by COVID-19.
Businesses specializing in event services have been struck especially hard, as the pandemic has led to the cancellation of large gatherings. This has resulted in a major hit for small business owners as they fight to keep their passions alive and rely on community support.
Located in Broad Ripple, Indianapolis, lilly lane is one of many businesses feeling the effects of the past year. A small floral shop that originally catered to weddings and other special events, lilly lane immediately began losing contracted events in mid-March as COVID-19 eliminated most of these gatherings for months to come. The shop started 2020 with plans to provide flowers for 60 weddings throughout the year, but that number quickly dwindled. Despite the challenge of remaining open and profitable, the shop is still finding ways to give back to the community.
Becky Ruby-Wojtowicz ’05, lilly lane’s owner, majored in Journalism and Arts Administration at Butler University. She began working with flowers during her first post-grad job as a Giving Manager at the Indianapolis Zoo, where she would occasionally create arrangements for donor events.
“Since we had a botanical garden on site, I would use its flowers to create centerpieces for some of our events,” she says. “I thought it was fun, and I wanted to do it on the side as a creative outlet.”
Then, in July 2008, a fellow Butler graduate reached out to Ruby-Wojtowicz with an emergency: Her wedding florist had suddenly canceled. With an eye for detail and some experience in florals, Ruby-Wojtowicz agreed to step in and help. The wedding was a success, and during the next few months, wedding floral requests from other Butler couples began pouring in. For more than a decade, a large portion of lilly lane’s floral arrangements have gone to weddings and other events for Butler alumni.
“Bulldogs love to support Bulldogs, and Bulldogs love to marry Bulldogs,” Ruby-Wojtowicz said with a laugh.
As weddings were postponed throughout the last year, however, lilly lane’s business began to slow.
“We saw an immediate need for our doors to stay open,” Ruby-Wojtowicz says. “We knew business for events would come back eventually—we just didn’t know when.”
So, lilly lane adapted, drawing on its steadily-growing network of nearly 1,000 married couples and other past clients looking to support local businesses during the pandemic.
The shop decided to shift the style of its arrangements to fit where many people now spend the most time—at home. These arrangements use seasonal blooms, featuring different combinations of colors and textures. This was the start of HOME, a program inviting lilly lane customers to order flower subscriptions that bring fresh-cut beauty to their doorsteps once or twice each month.
But lilly lane didn’t just stop at adapting business to survive the pandemic. Ruby-Wojtowicz also wanted to find a way to give back to the Indianapolis and Butler communities. After years of providing the University with flowers for events such as luncheons, receptions, and more, lilly lane recently ran a month-long special that donated a percentage of sales to the Butler Emergency Assistance Fund. The shop’s contributions to this fund will help cover the housing, living, and medical costs that students may face as a result of the pandemic throughout this academic year.
Despite the ongoing challenges brought on by COVID-19, one thing remains certain to Ruby-Wojtowicz: Going forward, lilly lane will continue to brighten lives one flower at a time.