By John Burton
HIGHLANDS – Valentine’s Day is an important day for many, but most definitely for a florist. This year, it’s more important than ever for Nancy Burton.
Burton’s shop, In the Garden, was heavily damaged in late October by Super Storm Sandy. Since then she has been working feverishly to get everything completed for its planned Feb. 14 reopening. She is hoping to take advantage of the business that day – Valentine’s Day – tends to offer those in her line of work.
The day also has a special significance for her business.
Burton initially opened In the Garden in February 2005 – Feb. 7 to be exact – first on the corner of Bay Avenue and Miller Street. She moved the business about two years ago to its current location, 69 Waterwitch Ave. Coming back and reopening on Feb. 14, as Highlands continues coming back, resonated with Burton.
“It just seemed really appropriate,” she said. “I’m kind of excited to open on Valentine’s Day, for the business and to be able to pay back some of the costs. But it’s also the nostalgia of Valentine’s Day” in relation to when she first opened.
Burton, a 37-year-old lifelong Highlands resident, said she walked back into the borough after Sandy when authorities weren’t letting anyone drive in. She was worried about her borough home and her business.
Her home was flooded with about 32 inches of water, keeping her and her family out of it for more than 20 days during which time they lived with friends in Atlantic Highlands. The repair work at home is continuing.
Burton had prepped her business for the storm, storing equipment on upper shelves, unplugging and putting electrical devices away and not restocking the refrigerators following a couple of large event orders she completed just prior to the storm. She believed the shop should be all right if the water rose to about 3½ feet. But the water came in and rose more than 5 feet, Burton said, pointing to a marker still on the shop’s wall, put there by a Federal Emergency Management (FEMA) inspector, showing the water’s height.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was worse than I could have imagined,” she said of the damage caused by the storm. “It looked like a tidal wave came through the store.”
She recalled how items were washed up toward the shop’s front, including her more than 7-foot tall floral refrigerators that had actually floated in the floodwater. Her front window had been smashed, as well.
“Everything that wasn’t latched down got washed out with the tide,” she said.
As she surveyed the damage, she stood in front of her store, “a local guy walked by and gave me a big hug and I just cried.”
Since then, Burton has moved forward, forming a new partnership with her two former co-workers, Jenna Morris and Eileen Rico, and the three have been working to get the business up and running again.
Burton said it will cost her about only $10,000 to get the operation back on track, thanks to the work contributions of her father, a woodworker, and a nephew’s construction business.
In The Garden is a floral and plant studio where Burton and her partners specialize in weddings and other special events, garden design and maintenance.
Burton said working with plants and flowers “is basically in my blood.” Both her mother and grandmothers have been avid gardeners.
Burton studied at the New York Botanical Garden School of Professional Horticulture. She had been thinking about starting her own business – another longtime dream – and opening a floral and plant studio seemed appropriate, she said.
Burton, who has returned to her Highlands home with her two toddler sons and husband Rob Burton, a Highlands police officer, insisted, she is here to stay. “We were able to grow up here,” on the shore, loving all that it provided. “I want the same for my kids.”
She also jokes that, given what she and her neighbors have gone through with this and previous storms, “the webbing on my feet gets a little thicker.”
Editor’s note: John Burton and Nancy Burton’s husband Rob are cousins.