Flower Power

March 2023 View more

By Judy Sutton Taylor

Perennial west suburban staple Phillip’s Flowers celebrates 100 years in business

The Phillips (from left): Derek, Baxter, Sandy, James, Don, Russ, and Jim
The Phillips (from left): Derek, Baxter, Sandy, James, Don, Russ, and Jim

When James A. Phillip opened the first Phillip’s Flowers on a Cicero street corner in 1923, the selection of blooms was based on whatever was being grown nearby, and deliveries were done via streetcar. A century later, Phillip’s Flowers & Gifts employs more than 150 people to operate six west suburban outposts—in Elmhurst, Hinsdale, La Grange, Naperville, Westmont, and Wheaton—plus a design center in Westmont and a landscaping arm in Oak Brook. It also has its own fleet of vehicles to deliver flowers sourced from all over the world to the city and more than 150 suburbs.

James, whose father was a gardener, dropped out of school as a teenager to help support his family by delivering flowers and never looked back. He built an apartment above the Cicero store, where he and his wife raised three children—two of whom eventually joined him in his work. “My grandfather said the flower business was as good as any, and better than most,” says Baxter Phillip, the company’s executive vice president and one of several Phillips who help run the family business today.

Founder James A. Phillip with J.R., George, and Tom Phillip in the 1920s
Founder James A. Phillip with J.R., George, and Tom Phillip in the 1920s

Of course, much has changed over the last century. Air transport, refrigeration, and advances in technology and communication mean all kinds of flowers can be brought to Chicago within a day or two. “We get flowers from South America, the Philippines, Holland, and beyond,” Baxter says. “And our computer system connects us to more than 20,000 fellow florists nationwide and worldwide.”

An old photo of a Phillips Flowers delivery van

A more mobile society means tastes are broader and requests more varied, so creating custom arrangements is an everyday requirement. Orders can be placed, and delivered, around the globe. These changes, however, present a modern set of challenges. “One hundred years ago, florists didn’t need IT departments,” he says.

The company started doing interior commercial landscaping in the 1970s and today installs green walls and holidays displays as well as exterior plants and seasonal containers. Beyond providing flowers for weddings and parties, its event services offer lighting, chair covers, table linens, and more.

A flower arrangement

Still, the fundamentals of running the business have stayed the same, Baxter says. Valentine’s Day is the single busiest holiday, Mother’s Day provides the busiest week, and Christmas makes December the busiest month. “We’re still in a line of work that brings joy in good times and comfort in challenging ones,” he says. “We help people express their emotions.” The secret to the Phillip family’s success hasn’t changed either. “My grandfather often said, ‘Being good to your customer always comes first,’” he recalls. “We believe that, and our people make it happen every day.”


Photos courtesy of Brad Baskin (top), Francis Son (flower arrangement), and Phillip’s Flowers (historic photos)