Operated by the Blasek family since 1955, Peoria Flag & Decorating is one of the area’s mainstay family businesses.
Most people born on Flag Day would think nothing of it. But John Blasek’s birth date doesn’t appear to have happened without reason.
His parents, William and Othelia Blasek, purchased Peoria Flag & Decorating from Ross Schride in 1955—the same year he was born. “I just grew up with the business,” Blasek said. “When I was a little kid, I remember being down at the store all the time.”
At the age of seven, he started helping out at the family business, now located on Glen Avenue in Peoria Heights. “I used to go out on the jobs with the guys,” he said. “Before they had bucket trucks…I’d be down at the bottom, footing the ladder while they were up on top. Or I’d be the gopher, running for stuff.”
Blasek’s ladder-holding days are long gone. Today, he’s president and co-owner of the company that he’s operated with his wife, Becky, since 1985.
A Change of Plans
Established in 1908, Peoria Flag & Decorating had been operated by Blasek’s father since he bought it from the Schride family, and William Blasek wanted to keep it in the family.
Although John had been involved in the business at an early age, he originally had other career plans. “I always thought [my older brother] was going to take over the business or come in with my dad.” So John had made other plans; he wanted to become a veterinarian. “I always loved animals,” he added. “That’s what I thought I was going to do.”
But when his brother took a different path, Blasek jumped at the chance to join the family business. His high school biology courses turned into business and accounting classes, and he was on his way to eventual business ownership. “My dad was counting on somebody to come into the business,” said John. “And I have the same aspirations for my kids.”
No concrete plans have been made regarding the next generation of owners, but all of Blasek’s children work for the business in some capacity. Angela Jungwirth does the bookkeeping; Kari Trilikis specializes in banners, graphics and imprinting ribbons and napkins; and Kevin Blasek, who currently lives in Tennessee, contributes however he can, helping out with the website and even selling banners, flags and the like. And while John is happy that his son went out on his own, he hopes that he will eventually return to Peoria, saying, “The door is always open.”
A Wide Range of Services
Over more than a century-long existence, Peoria Flag & Decorating has branched into a variety of markets, from conventions and trade shows to commercial Christmas decorating to fairground setup and decoration. “My dad, a long time ago, became very diversified,” explained Blasek, “…so we didn’t have to count on one thing bringing all the money in.”
The company has become a go-to for many organizations and events in the Peoria area, covering conventions and trade shows within a 150-mile radius of its home base. The Blaseks have been working the convention for the Illinois State Dental Society since 1955, and they help set up for the Peoria Auto Show, Peoria Home Show and the IHSA’s March Madness, in addition to working with many other trade associations.
“On the retail side, our mainstay is still flags and flagpoles,” noted Blasek, “but we also carry decorations for just about any occasion.” The company recently added gift items to its line of merchandise, and a new sign machine allows them to print personalized banners for birthdays, graduation parties and more. They also create outdoor vinyl banners for high schools and other organizations. “Come fall,” he said, “we’re pumping out banners for almost every school.”
“Service We’re Proud Of”
While Peoria Flag & Decorating has seen many changes over the years, one thing that Blasek never wants to change is its devotion to service. Since his parents ran the business decades ago, the company’s motto has been “service we’re proud of.” Everyone coming into the store, he said, whether spending one dollar or a hundred, receives the same attention. “Being a family business, I think we’re just a little bit closer to the service aspect.”
Blasek understands that this is what will set his company apart from the rest. “All the decorators have the same equipment,” he said. “But it’s how you present that and how you present your service.”
He also believes strongly in giving back to the community. “As a family business and not a corporate chain, we’re really embedded in the Peoria area,” he noted. Blasek donates time, equipment and manpower every year to help a few charities dear to his heart, most notably St. Jude, Easter Seals and Children’s Hospital of Illinois. He’s also involved in Kiwanis Clubs and the Boy Scouts. “It’s good business to be involved in different things,” he added. “You make contacts that way.”
Truly a Family Business
While Blasek works side by side with most of his immediate family, he’s also grown close to the company’s long-term employees—like Bryan Pickerill, operations manager. When Blasek was a scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts, Pickerill was in his troop. “He started [working here] when he was 12, cutting grass,” said Blasek. “He’s 47 now.” Blasek added that Pickerill and all of his employees become like family.
Becky Blasek went to work for the family business when she and John got engaged over three and a half decades ago. “I get to see my family pretty much all the time,” he said. “That’s one of the nice things.” On most Fridays, the extended family grabs a pizza and spends quality time together outside of work. “[Our kids] seem to want to hang out with us, so I guess that’s alright,” laughed John.
And with a small nursery set up in the back of the store, Jungwirth and Trilikis can bring their young boys to work with them when needed. They can often be found crawling around and exploring the backrooms, as kids will do. For all this and more, said Blasek, “It’s truly a family business.” iBi