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Area florists hit hard by COVID-19 business restrictions

Amidst the global shutdown, local florists are bracing for a turbulent year, and looking at an extremely odd Mother’s Day.

“It’s hard,” said Laurie Jahnke, owner of Flowers By Laurie. “Nobody can come and shop in the store. I even asked [the Chamber of Commerce] if we could just have one person in at a time and they said no... Right now we can just deliver and do curb-side.”

In lieu of in-person shopping, Jahnke has been taking pictures of her arrangements and sending them to those that are interested in purchasing one, allowing them to pick their favorite bouquet from the catalogue of photographs. She said that the community has been very responsive to the changes, and that she and her customers work together as best as they can to operate as smooth as they can: “The people have been great. They’ve been ordering, but it’s not like they can come in and look around... We continue to do our best to meet customers’ requests.”

In addition to nobody being able to easily browse the florists’ wares in person, the 10-person gathering limit has effectively shutdown the majority of wedding ceremonies and funerals, both of which florists look towards as a reliable source of income.

“Weddings are down, there’s no funerals,” said Jahnke. “Instead of having a couple-hundred dollar order, you may get a little vase, so sales are down there.”

The weddings that are being held are drastically reduced in size, and the newly enforced capacity-limit is even forcing loved ones to miss their family member’s special day.

“I have a wedding at the end of this month, and right now she can only have 10 people,” Jahnke continued. “Her grandma can’t come now, so they’re maybe going to have it in front of where she lives.”

Jahnke voiced her support towards the idea of doing a limited opening with one customer allowed in the store at a time, while keeping a sanitation policy to help ensure safety. She advocated for a phone-call based appointment system that would allow patrons to visit and browse her inventory.

“It would be nice if one person could come in,” she said. “But I do understand that it is a pandemic and we don’t want anybody getting sick.”

In particular, Jahnke didn’t think it was fair that local businesses were barred from opening, while large chainstores continue to operate at their normal levels. She expressed her discontent with big businesses flourishing, while small businesses dangle by cobweb profit margins.

“I went to Menard’s, Fleet-Farm, and Home Depot with my husband; you can’t find a parking spot, the stores are bumper- to-bumper. He looked at me and said, ‘You have this little business where nobody can come in and shop, but look at all the people here.’... There must have been two or three hundred cars at every place, the greenhouses were all packed. It doesn’t make sense why the little businesses are being punished.”

In addition to financial woes, Jahnke said she’s going to miss the community festivities that would normally take place during the upcoming holiday.

“Carnations were always given away to the first 100 mothers on Mother’s Day at the restaurants, so you lose that,” she said. “But I really just hope that all the little business can continue running.”

Green Bee Floral Designs once again opened its doors, and has been working hard to fight the dragging affects of supply chain collapse.

“I was shut down for three full weeks,” said Naomi Hartl, owner of Green Bee Floral Designs. “But as soon as I got the okay from the health department to do those no-touch deliveries, I started back up.”

Hartl was able to obtain a grant that covered her business’s rent and utilities for the duration of the closure, but she said the shutdown has forced her to adjust her business plans and reach out to different wholesalers and growers for supplies, leaving her normal inventory a bit thin.

“What’s a struggle for me and other shops is that so many of the imports into the U.S. got shut down,” Hartl said. “The cut-flower industry relies heavily on imports from countries like the Netherlands and Columbia, especially the high-end flowers I’m used to offering, they aren’t coming in from those countries any more.”

Netherlands, the highest grossing flower exporter in the world, had to destroy around 400 million flowers in the past several weeks because they were unable to find bidders at global auction. Similarly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service recently released a report estimating that Columbian flower sales, of which 90% are exports, have dropped by 80%.

With the cessation of floral imports and the three week closure of her store, Hartl took matters into her own hands by starting to grow flowers herself, so she could continue to provide the community with quality products.

“For those three weeks, I put my energy into cut-flower seeds and growing a garden,” she said, adding that that the community has been mutually mindful, with a number of orders coming through to show support.

Hartl likewise agreed with the push to allow stores to host a single customer at a time, saying, “It doesn’t bother me; I’m comfortable. If someone wanted to come through my door and be in the waiting area and check out that way, then yes. We’d just be responsible and practice social distancing.”

Blooms Floral Design saw a major downturn in their staffing, supply availability, and sales since the onset of the shutdown.

“We had one worker who decided to quit completely after the shutdown started,” said Rebecca, the only Blooms employee of three that continued to work. “The other girl took off until our state opens up again.”

In addition to being at one-third worker power, Blooms saw a choke point form in their supply chains due to the aforementioned import issues, as well as national restrictions, notably on flower shipments from California.

“Probably in the second week of shutdown, we started to see where we couldn’t get any product in,” Rebecca said. “One week we barely had any plants, just because they wouldn’t ship them to us. Last week, we were getting down to where there was hardly any fresh-cut flowers to get.”

Customer traffic all but stopped during the initial weeks of the outbreak, and Rebecca expressed concern over the number of people who’ve come back to shop.

“For a while, there was nothing,” she said. “Now as people are starting to go out a little bit more out of their comfort zone, we are starting to see some comeback, but it’s not like it was.”

Despite all the financial turmoil and logistical woes, the florists are all looking forward towards one thing: Mother’s Day.

The increased sales during Easter gave the florists a much needed stream of revenue, and with Mother’s Day right around the corner, Jahnke says she hopes to soon see the same thing.

“Before the holiday, the phone didn’t ring at all, and of course nobody could come in...

We have hanging baskets and a nice floral selection, and we are delivering,” she said. “We’re getting more orders in, I think, because of the pandemic and it’s hard to go see mom right now.”

Hartl said that she’ll continue working to the upmost of her abilities, and is preparing a multitude of specials for Mother’s Day: “I’m running things from mini-vases and bouquets to grand-floral arrangements. I’m also doing succulent planters and hanging-baskets.”

Blooms is receiving a lot of preorders in preparation for the holiday, and is doing curbside pick-ups.

“We have our walk-in and pick-out available too, where we have it premade,” Rebecca said. “And, of course, we have contactless delivery.”

Rebecca closed with a heartening message that she wanted to share with her fellow flower enthusiasts: “I want to give a special shout-out to other florists. Keep your chins up, we’re in this together.”