Rebecca “Becky” Simmons fell in love with Durham when she arrived in 1996 to attend Duke, where she also earned her master’s degree. Younger sisters Rachael Price and Kate Senner were equally captivated and soon joined her. Wanting to launch a business that maximized their strengths, they opened Tre Bella Florist in 2005. While Kate is no longer involved in Tre Bella – she’s director of development for Sarah P. Duke Gardens – Becky and Rachael remain dedicated to helping Durham brides achieve their wedding dreams. When not at the shop or teaching in Duke’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Material Science, Becky is devoted to her young daughters, who attend Durham Academy and Mangum Elementary. Along with husband Walter Neal Simmons, an associate professor the same department at Duke, the North Durham family loves visiting the Museum of Life and Science and Duke Gardens. Rachael and her longtime partner, Chaz Martenstein, owner of Chaz’s Bull City Records, are the parents of Millie Alice, born in December. They live in Duke Forest and enjoy family outings Foster’s Market, Parker and Otis and Toast.
Becky was glad to let her family organize her wedding. Sister Rachael stepped up to plan the event, and her mother smartly snagged the perfect gown at an estate sale. With the help of youngest sister Kate, they assembled floral arrangements from the cutting garden lovingly tended by their father at the family’s home in upstate New York.
They must have done a terrific job, because Becky became intrigued by the wedding industry. Today, she and Rachael are recognized for providing unique floral designs, exquisite upscale gowns and planning services through Tre Bella, one of the most successful bridal businesses in the Triangle.
Based on a loose translation of their mother’s affectionate nickname for her three daughters, Tre Bella launched in 2005 with just flowers. With modest expectations and self-taught skills, Becky and Rachael worked out of Becky’s garage. Kate joined them as the business grew and later relocated to a shop on Broad Street. Observing a lack of the elegant, romantic dresses the sisters personally favor in the local market, they added the gown shop six years ago in West Village.
Wanting to consolidate their growing ventures, Rachael and Becky acquired a three-level building on East Main Street in 2014. Tre Bella Bridal opened first in what had been a swanky upstairs loft apartment. The floral business later took root in the basement. Tre Bella opened a savvy extension of its brand with a street-level boutique – offering bridesmaid gowns, stylish daywear and budget-friendly accessories – in 2015.
Rachael credits caring customer service for Tre Bella’s steady growth, which also has enjoyed a boost from new event venues and catering services. “We work very closely with our brides and their families, sometimes for more than a year,” Rachael says. “We get a lot of referrals because people appreciate that kind of relationship.”
She also thanks Chaz and Becky’s husband, Neal, for providing the support and flexibility needed to run a business that requires a lot of evening and weekend commitments while raising young families.
“Everyone pitches in to make sure Tre Bella is successful and our brides are happy,” says Rachael, cuddling her infant daughter, Millie Alice.“We wouldn’t have it any other way.”