The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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December 5, 2012

A store of inspiration: Hilltop Florist still grows its own

MANKATO — Noel Van Tol grew up in Hilltop Florist and Greenhouse, a family-owned business since 1880 on Mankato’s hilltop. As a girl, she disbudded endless rows of carnations and received a penny for every three corsage points and puffs she made. In 1976, Noel and husband Larry Van Tol purchased Hilltop Florist from Noel’s parents, Eddie and Marguerite Keane.

“They were ready to retire and Larry realized the value of a family business — to let it go out of the family, it would be a shame,” Noel said.

Noel and Larry divorced in 1982 but maintained their business partnership. In 1995, Larry married Kathy.

Today Kathy Van Tol handles the daily operations and management of Hilltop Florist. Kathy began working with Noel and Larry in 1989 when she designed the retail store expansion. At project’s end, Kathy joined the floral staff part time.

Noel is retiring, but she is still involved in the business and her husband, Gene Biewen, also works there.

“When I came into this family business 30 short years ago, it was immediately obvious that there was no room for coasting or anonymity — that we were representing to the public a quality of product and service that had been the pride of generations before me,” Gene said.

Essentially, two couples are at the heart of Hilltop Florist and Greenhouse. With exes and new spouses working side by side, they’ve created a family atmosphere that’s supportive and friendly. Here’s how Hilltop’s garden grows.

MVB: How has Hilltop Florist changed since 1976?

Larry: If I reflect back on the land and all the greenhouses, what we really did was modernize it all. We took down the old houses, modernized others, and made it all energy efficient. We also specialized the greenhouses for our needs.

Kathy: The biggest change was when we remodeled the retail store in 1989.

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