“We’re grateful for our loyal customers whose support makes it possible for us to give back to these incredible organizations that work every day to improve lives in our communities,” said Tom Royer, president and CEO of Royer’s Flowers.
Royer’s Flowers & Gifts has presented 2,300 holiday cards and coloring pages to the American Red Cross for distribution to area service members and veterans.
Royer’s collected the cards and coloring pages from the public in each of its stores from Oct. 16 through Nov. 14, continuing a decade-long affiliation with the Red Cross “Holidays for Heroes” program.
Noah Gingrich went trick-or-treating with his young cousins on Halloween night.
By the next morning, temperatures having devilishly dipped into the 30s, he was placing a sleigh and two reindeer in front of Royer’s flagship store in Lebanon. It was the start of an eight-day process of decorating the company’s 16 stores in seven counties for the holiday season.
An employee in Royer’s Flowers wholesale department, Noah has been the lead holiday decorator for the past three years, readying store exteriors with toy soldier statues, wreaths and garlands, string lights on bushes and trees.
Two of those trees are mighty sycamores that flank the Lebanon store’s driveway. On the left side, staple gun in hand and ladder at the ready, Noah wound nine courses of lights around the trunk.
“And there’s one tree,” he pronounced as the final staple clicked into place.
Decking the halls is a decades-long tradition for family-owned Royer’s, now in the hands of its third and fourth generations. One of the latter is Geoff Royer, vice president of central operations, who oversaw the work in Lebanon and that afternoon at the Hershey store.
“It definitely dresses the stores up for the holidays,” Geoff said. “And nobody really does this any more to the scale that we do it, so it does make us stand out.”
It’s a significant undertaking, involving other members of the wholesale department and employees at every store.
Before Noah arrived, the stores were tasked with stripping old sets of string lights from garland, attaching new ones and generally fluffing greenery that has been in storage for the previous 11 months.
Brenda Yordy, a Lebanon driver, working at an outside table, used a pair of wire cutters to extract the lights.
“Easier than untangling them, right?” she said. Later, she was joined in the task by store manager Melissa Fahr.
It took two people to carry each of four sections of a metal bell arch from storage to the front of the Lebanon store, on South 12th Street.
“It’s a beast,” said chief operating officer Cheryl Brill.
In previous years, the arch spanned the doorway, attached to decorative wooden beams. This year, with the beams newly clad in metal, no one wanted to risk scratching them.
So, the team instead affixed the arch, with its bells of red, green and white, above the Royer’s sign to the left of the beams, securing it with hooks and wire to the red-brick building. They placed a trumpeting soldier statue beneath the arch.
Selfies in Hershey
By afternoon, Noah and Geoff were working their Christmas magic 12 miles west at the Hershey store, which enjoys a prominent corner spot on West Chocolate Avenue, downtown’s main thoroughfare.
Several stores have enough storage space to hang on to their large exterior decorations year-round. For those that don’t, such as Hershey, their larger pieces are kept at Royer’s headquarters in Lebanon and delivered to them by Noah in a box truck.
Hershey store manager Andrea Campbell and assistant manager Alexi Strine were excited about turning their store’s sleigh into a selfie station. They moved the sleigh closer to the front door than in past years to make it more accessible to customers.
To be sure, the holiday season requires weeks of hard work, store decorating being just the start. In the floral industry, Christmas sales are on a par with Valentine’s Day but spread out over a period that’s three times longer.
Poinsettias require prudent watering, low centerpieces with shallow water wells can be sloshy, and fresh evergreen branches can be sticky. And glitter is seemingly everywhere.
“But we’re making everyone really happy,” Andrea said. “We make so many people so happy.”
One customer has followed Andrea from her first stint in Hershey, to the Harrisburg East store, back to Hershey. Every Christmas, the woman brings in silver pedestal bowls to be filled with greens, berries and roses that she gifts to family members.
“There’s a lot of sentimental things that are happening,” Andrea said. “Then you really feel like you are part of this super-special moment for this family. And I think that’s cool.”
Royer’s Flowers & Gifts will give away red, white and blue bouquets to military veterans on Nov. 11, Veterans Day.
The bouquets – featuring a red carnation, a white carnation and a blue bow – will be available in-store only at each of Royer’s 16 locations in Berks, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon and York counties.
“This is one of our favorite events each year,” said Tom Royer, president and CEO of family-owned Royer’s. “It is our honor and privilege to recognize the men and women who give so much to protect our freedom.”
Non-veterans may purchase the bouquets for $2.20 each.
A Royer’s truck set out from Lebanon in early August on a 250-mile journey into the future of foliage plants.
The truck headed southwest on Interstate 81, its destination a 200-acre farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western Virginia, in the town of Stuarts Draft. On that farm lies a five-acre building that from above looks like nothing so much as a gigantic Lego piece (photo, below).
It’s a state-of-the art greenhouse where The Plant Co., which was birthed during the pandemic, is drawing on one family’s decades of floriculture experience and the latest technology in a quest to “reinvent the houseplant industry.”
Royer’s is the first florist to carry The Plant Co.’s products.
“It was amazing to see how many of our own people purchased the Proven Winners plants as soon as they came in,” said Cheryl Brill, chief operating officer.
CEO Tom Royer and Zach Barkman, wholesale manager, got to know The Plant Co. this spring when they attended the International Floriculture Expo in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. It was there that they met Jennifer Kuziw, The Plant Co.’s northeast sales manager.
Kuziw grew up and still lives in central Pennsylvania. She already was familiar with Royer’s and thought the two companies would be a good fit given their commitment to delivering high-quality products to customers.
Within weeks, she was showing product samples to Royer’s officials in Lebanon. Tom and Zach then visited the massive greenhouse in Virginia, which opened in 2020.
“This is all great stuff,” Tom recalled upon seeing the plants.
Tom noted that in the past 30 years, mass marketers began offering foliage plants. Florida growers either catered to those customers, turning plants into mere commodities, or went out of business altogether.
The result was plants that weren’t as special as they once were. That left fertile ground for The Plant Co., the brainchild of founders and brothers-in-law Jason Van Wingerden and Frank Paul.
Just as four generations of Royers have made the family name synonymous with flower shops, the Van Wingerden family is deeply rooted in the greenhouse trade. It began with Aart and Cora Van Wingerden, who arrived from Holland in 1948 and started a greenhouse business in New Jersey, spawning many other similar enterprises.
Jason Van Wingerden, a grandson of Aart and Cora, worked at Green Circle Growers in Oberlin, Ohio, which Jason’s father started in 1968. Green Circle comprises 150 acres of indoor growing space, making it one of the largest greenhouses in the United States. Frank Paul was Green Circle’s former head grower of orchids.
The brothers-in-law settled on western Virginia for its climate, proximity to interstates 81 and 64, and high-quality well water, said Ben Wright, The Plant Co.’s national account manager.
The elevation in the Blue Ridge Mountains means warm days, cool nights and “good, consistent quality growth year-round,” Wright said.
The greenhouse (photo, above) is just a couple miles away from a Hershey Co. factory that makes Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
The Plant Co.’s products begin as tissue culture in test tubes, arriving from labs around the world, before they are rooted in soil in the greenhouse. Tissue culture makes the plants cleaner and less prone to disease.
Ease of care and use
The greenhouse’s 21-foot ceilings keep plants cooler, as do metal poles that are powder coated white to absorb less heat.
Thirteen layers of sand and gravel sit below capillary mats. Plants are watered from below through the mats, then the water drains back into holding tanks so it isn’t wasted.
Carbon dioxide from the greenhouse’s high-efficiency natural gas boilers is captured and pumped into the greenhouse to encourage plant growth.
The plants are promoted for their quality but also for their ease of care and use. The plants are sold with tags that include the variety name, genus and species and information about where to use them within a room and how to care for them.
The goal is to embolden consumers who haven’t had success with plants in the past.
“And so they kind of discover that green thumb,” Wright said.
Mike Rohrer, who joined the Ephrata store in January as a driver, was delivering flowers to a woman at the Brethren Village retirement community in Lititz.
“It’s my birthday,” the woman said expectantly, “and you’re going to sing to me, aren’t you?”
“I said, ‘You bet I am!” Rohrer recalled. “How could you pass that up?”
Singing birthday greetings has become Rohrer’s calling card.
Rohrer, 66, was born and raised in Manheim, Lancaster County. He spent 32 years as a Christian school administrator, first in Lititz and recently in southern Maryland.
The pandemic prompted him and his wife, Becky, to move to Ephrata and closer to family. They have three grown children; they are “Mimi” and “Poppy” to six grandchildren.
It was Becky who spotted the Royer’s job opening.
“She said, ‘I think you’d really like this job,’“ Rohrer said. “And you know what? She was right. I love the job.”
Rohrer has made it his mission to deliver kindness to customers along with rose bouquets. Of course, challenges exist, from slow traffic (including horse and buggy travelers) to hard-to-find house numbers to growling dogs.
But that doesn’t deter Rohrer.
“There’s a little verse in the Bible that says something like this: Be kind to one another,” Rohrer said. “And on any given day, I’m going to meet people who maybe have had a bad day. Maybe they’ve had a good day. Maybe they have health problems. Maybe they have financial problems. Maybe there’s problems with their families.
“I look at it as kind of a ministry to try to help meet their needs by making them have a good, fun day,” he said.
Rohrer works approximately 30 hours per week, typically making 20 to 25 deliveries each day.
‘It’s somebody’s birthday’
On a recent Tuesday morning, his first shift comprised five stops in Ephrata. First, he pulled up alongside parked cars on a narrow street, turned on his flashers, and slid the side door open. No one was home to accept the snack basket.
The second stop took him to Elite Coach, a charter bus company, where he delivered a Tranquility arrangement to a woman in the office. Next, he brought mixed flowers in a vase to a woman who said she was celebrating her 42nd wedding anniversary.
“Hey, I’ve got you beat,” Roher said in fun. “This year’s my 46th!”
The fourth stop brought him to a neighborhood where many of the streets are named after American presidents. This recipient lived on Garfield Drive.
The typed printout on Mike’s clipboard noted that it was a birthday delivery. Lest there be any doubt, “B-DAY” was handwritten and circled in pink highlighter.
“It looks like it’s somebody’s birthday,” Rohrer said to the woman answering his six knocks on the door. “Is it your birthday?”
“It’s my birthday, thank you!” she said, accepting the Jewel arrangement.
Lisa Birkholz of South Lebanon Township, Lebanon County, always is eager for autumn.
“Fall’s my favorite time of year,” she said.
And with even more reason this year. Her submission in Royer’s Flowers & Gifts’ annual name-the-arrangement contest – “Fall Hues” – was selected as the winner among more than 500 online entries.
Kathy Kissling’s entry “Fall’s Delight” (one of six she contributed overall) was the runner up. Birkholz and Kissling, also of South Lebanon Township, each will receive the all-around arrangement (retail value $34.99) as their prize.
The arrangement features an autumnal color palette: lavender glass vase, orange rose and orange carnations, purple statice, red alstroemeria, sunflower. It measures 14 inches high and 11 inches wide.
The arrangement will debut this fall and will be available in all stores and as part of Royer’s direct-ship program serving the Lower 48 states.
Maggie Liriano was initially inspired by the robots she saw on television shows.
“I was like, that’s so cool, I want one of my own,” the fourth-grader at Mifflin Park Elementary School in Berks County said. “So I made one of cardboard when I was little, and I would dress like a robot. I’ve always asked my mom, can we get an actual robot?
“She said, ‘When you grow up, maybe you can make your own.’ “
Liriano may not have to wait that long. She got hands-on experience with a robot this year as one of the 23 third- and fourth-grade girls who participated in the school’s new Girls Who Code club.
Royer’s Flowers & Gifts, which has three Berks County stores, donated $1,050 to help the club purchase six robots and a floor mat used in competitions.
At Mifflin Park in Shillington, the Girls Who Code club developed under Mark Engle, the school’s innovation and gifted teacher.
His science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, room is alive with curious children, two chirping parakeets, a turtle, rabbit, hedgehog and fish.
It’s a beehive of activity, literally, although the one in the room is only for observation. There’s another one on the school’s “green” roof from which Engle harvests honey.
The innovation curriculum covers engineering, coding and robotics, and the scientific process and environmental standards.
Girl empowerment and coding
Kayla Morris, another fourth-grader and the daughter of an engineer, enjoyed coding in Engle’s class. She signed up for Girls Who Code as a “cool after-school thing,” she said.
Although Engle had similarly modest expectations for the club, they were exceeded quickly.
“I figured kids are going to come for a couple hours, we’re going to have some fun, and then it will be over,” he said. The reality was that the club, which met from October through Valentine’s Day, held twice as many sessions as initially scheduled, and some of the girls worked on projects on their own.
Girls Who Code has its own curriculum that promotes girl empowerment and coding. Engle said he “turned it up a notch” by entering the students into a robot competition, which promoted problem solving, innovation and teamwork.
The rechargeable robots are known as Dash. Imagine four teal balls, three on the bottom that act as wheels and one on the top that serves as a head with a big eyeball. Dash is approximately six inches tall.
One of the appeals of Dash is that students can give the robot a personality, from changing the color of its blinking lights to recording sounds for it to utter to making it dance. Some students made helmets for their robots from styrofoam cups normally used for serving macaroni and cheese in the school cafeteria.
“They can make it speak Spanish,” Engle said, eliciting laughter from club members Liriano and Morris, “although Mr. Engle never understood what it was saying because I don’t speak Spanish, but the robot clearly does.”
Using a touch screen on a pad, students can string together block code to, for instance, direct the distance that Dash travels, dictate turns and the robot’s speed.
Saturn and Jupiter
The competition comprised five challenges involving simulated visits to nine planets, such as negotiating the robot around the rings of Saturn. Students had to find a way to hook a magnet to their robots to retrieve washers, which played the role of Jupiter’s icy moons.
“They realize very quickly,” Engle said, “I did this but the magnet’s too high, it’s not picking anything up. Or I’m moving too fast. And so they not only had to do the coding problem-solving, but also what they made and would it be an effective use.”
Clearly, the lessons they have learned have inspired the students. Liriano and another classmate raised their hands to present their robots at a community event. Morris went with her family to a Girls Who Code event in New York City.
And more opportunities await as they move up to Governor Mifflin Intermediate School next year.
Liriano was incredulous to learn that Engle runs a co-ed club at the intermediate school that actually does make a robot.
“You do?” she said.
“Just made your day, Mags,” Engle said with a laugh.
Meanwhile, Engle anticipates doubling the number of participants in Girls Who Code in the coming school year.
For the holidays, the song says, you can’t beat home sweet home.
But while the sunshine of a friendly gaze can warm your heart, home also is where you can find practical solutions to Christmas complications.
Take hairspray, for instance.
You can spray it on nail polish to make it dry faster as you get ready for the office party, or on wrapped presents to make them glossy and stand out.
Our favorite holiday hack, however, is the power and punch hairspray can give to your Christmas wreath.
A wreath’s round shape and evergreen composition are why it is a symbol of eternal life. Evergreen trees have long been revered for their ability to survive winter.
Of course, even a fresh wreath will become dry over time. A cut Christmas tree will lose needles, but you can slow the process by giving it daily drinks of water.
That’s not possible with a wreath. Instead, you can seal in the wreath’s moisture with hairspray. It acts like glue and holds the needles on.
For best results and to avoid messes, spray the wreath outdoors before you hang it on a door, window or wall. Hang it on the outside of a door (it can get cooked if placed behind glass) and out of direct sunlight.
If you want to be happy in a million ways, the song says, for the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home.