Fourth-generation florists in East McKeesport deliver smiles

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Late Friday afternoon wasn’t quite the end of the workweek at Lea’s Floral Shop in East McKeesport.

John Lechliter, whose family’s business has been a fixture along Fifth Avenue for 55 years, was overseeing the assembly of 180 bouquets for residents of two nearby care facilities. The arrangements, placed in yellow mugs bearing smiley faces, were delivered Sunday to kick off, appropriately enough, “Make Someone Smile Week.”

“This is my second year of doing this,” Mr. Lechliter said. “I still have people come up and say how nice the mugs are and everything.”

“Make Someone Smile Week,” continuing through Saturday, is a charitable project of Teleflora, a service company that connects customers with local florists for delivery. Teleflora supplies the mugs, and the florists in its network partner with growers and wholesalers to provide bouquets to care centers across the country.

“Some of the residents never receive flowers,” said Mr. Lechliter’s mother, Mary Lechliter. Her grandfather, the late Leo Lucarelli, founded Lea’s Floral Shop in 1959, which now is in its fourth generation of family ownership.

Sunday’s deliveries were to Riverside Care Center in McKeesport and Arden Courts in Monroeville. Anna Marie McClain, Mr. Lechliter’s grandmother, is a resident at the latter.

When Mr. Lucarelli got into the floral business, he decided to combine his first name with that of his daughter Anna Marie to arrive at “Lea’s.” The first location was a small building on Fifth Avenue, and about 40 years ago, the shop moved to a larger lot just across the street.

Ms. Lechliter said her grandfather, a Wilmerding native, tried his hand as a bread salesman and later as an insurance agent.

“He would feel bad for people to whom he was selling insurance who didn’t have any money, and he’d give them money. So he wasn't doing too well,” she explained.

A funeral director friend suggested that, as a complementary business, Mr. Lucarelli sell flowers. And the rest is East McKeesport history.

After graduating from high school, Anna Marie McClain came aboard temporarily — or so she thought. She stuck around, as did her husband, Frank McClain, who started at Lea’s in 1965.

“The biggest part I enjoyed about it was making deliveries, going to a home and seeing those people really enjoying it,” said Mr. McClain, who recalls loading flowers into a 1958 Ford. “Seeing the looks on their faces, it was worth working that day.”

These days, Ms. Lechliter handles the business part of Lea’s, and her son is the shop’s manager, wedding consultant and designer. Both have attended courses at the Teleflora professional education center in Oklahoma City, Okla., and Mr. Lechliter serves on the board of Teleflora’s Pennsylvania Unit, one of the company’s 44 regional divisions in the United States.

And on any given day, the fifth generation of the Lea’s family might be in the store, opening the coolers to check out the flowers: Ms. Lechliter’s granddaughter, Bailey, just 19 months old.

“She doesn’t have a choice,” Bailey’s grandmother said. “She’s coming here, working.‘‍’‍

Harry Funk, freelance writer:

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