Mercer Island Florist named Business of the Year

By Cody Ellerd

Earl Payne wasn't surprised that the business he passed from one Mercer Island family to another nearly 20 years ago won the Chamber of Commerce's prestigious Business of the Year Award on Thursday. ``Nope, I knew what a great job she was doing,'' the former owner said of the current proprietor, Diane Larson.

Her store, Mercer Island Florist, was selected by the Chamber for its outstanding service to the community.

``I'm very touched by it,'' Larson said. ``What I like best about it is that it comes from the community.'' The morning after the announcement the staff was at the shop as usual, but they were celebrating with the store's extended family, pieces of fluffy white cake and of course -- flowers.

The Chamber selected the 45-year-old Island mainstay because of its support of schools and community groups and for employing many of the Island's young people, giving them their first taste of the work world.

One of the oldest retail businesses on the Island, Mercer Island Florist opened in 1957 when Payne and his wife, Anne, took over the former Browne's Florist and Nursery.

The shop was located just north of the downtown QFC until 1964 when it moved into Island Market Square, the site it occupied for more than 30 years.

Earl did the designing and Anne handled the bookkeeping, and they both poured their hearts and energy into the business, putting down deep roots into the Mercer Island community.

The couple hired Shirley Larson as a designer. After working at the shop for nearly 20 years, Larson bought the business in 1986 when the Paynes retired. It wasn't long before her daughter, Diane, joined Mercer Island Florist as a part-time bookkeeper. She took over the business in 1997 when her mother retired. Diane's own daughters, Kelly and Lauren, have been known to help out at the shop as well.

``Give the people on Mercer Island what they want, not what you think they might want,'' goes the Payne business strategy that the Larson family has honored over the years.

They all feel that this belief has kept Mercer Island Florist thriving.

When Mercer Island Florist moved to its present location two years ago, Larson said that's when she was struck by the loyalty of her customers.

``They were so concerned about where we'd find a place and whether it would work for us,'' she said. ``I realized they want us to succeed as much as we want to succeed.''

The Chamber Award was created two years ago to show appreciation for local businesses in the face of the city's growth and development. Last year it was awarded to Island Books.

Outgoing Chamber of Commerce President Emmett Maloof said that Mercer Island Florist was a great choice for the honor.

``Personally every time I called Diane her help went way beyond just a flower choice,'' Maloof said. ``(Her) creativity and artistic ability have made Mercer Island Florist much more than a provider of flowers.''

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