Three weeks ago, Julia Gray, a florist, delivered a bright bouquet of flowers to a customer in Queens – spring colors, on request. Judging by the accompanying card, which the sender had carefully dictated to Ms Gray over the phone, a family fallout had occurred. The flowers were sent as an apology.
“It was this young woman who sent flowers to her aunt,” Ms. Gray said. “She hadn’t seen her family for a year and a half.” When Ms Gray told the recipient that the flowers were from her niece, her face lit up. “People are realizing that time is running out,” Ms. Gray said. “You can’t hold a grudge.”
As the de facto manager of Donhauser Florist, an Astoria flower shop opened by her great-great-grandfather in 1889, Ms Gray is accustomed to negotiating deals of affection through bouquets. But the pandemic, she said, has escalated the process.
“Sending flowers has always made sense, but now it’s more serious,” Ms. Gray said. “Before, the messages were short – ‘Happy birthday, I love so and so.’ Now people write paragraphs, and they’re much more specific. I have to remind customers that this is just a small card. If people really have a lot to say, I’ll type it up and print it. “
Spending the past 11 months in various lockdown states has inspired many intriguing expeditions. It was a period of perhaps unintentional rumination, during which many people had no choice but to be alone with their thoughts. And when those thoughts sometimes turn into tender-hearted mea culpas, florists get the call.
“I regularly wear my advisor’s hat,” said John Harkins, owner of Harkins, the New Orleans florist for 42 years. Mr. Harkins grew up in the flower business, but graduated in counseling and worked as a teacher for a decade before returning there. “People have collapsed crying on the phone,” he says. “I must be extremely patient and kind. And you know, it’s something that people really like you for.
Mr. Harkins estimates that his business has grown 50 percent from the same period last year. “My dad told me when I was young that the flower business was recession-proof,” he said. “He started during the second plunge of the Great Depression in 1937. He said, ‘When things are really bad a guy can’t go out and buy his wife a new car or a mink coat, but he can. buy a dozen red roses and feel like a big hit. It’s kind of a denial of hard times. This is where the florist comes in.
According to a recent survey by the Society of American Florists, more than 80% of respondents reported an increase in holiday sales from 2019. In January, 1-800-Flowers, a leading e-commerce retailer, announced this which he said was the highest quarterly revenue and profit in company history, with total net sales of $ 877.3 million, an increase of 44.8 % compared to the same quarter last year. Chris McCann, the president and CEO, estimated that approximately 22 million stems, including approximately 14 million roses, were delivered by the company for Valentine’s Day.
The success of the flower industry pandemic at the retail level has revealed our zealous, if not a little desperate, need for long-distance relationships. Outside of a pandemic, friends and loved ones may have gathered in a bar or restaurant to celebrate special occasions. Alas, instead of saying it in person, we all say it with flowers.
And there is an underlying sadness.
“It’s heartbreaking to know that the reason someone sends flowers is because otherwise they would be there in person,” said Whit McClure, who runs the Whit Hazen floral design studio in Los Angeles. “I’m choked thinking about this.” Ms McClure also noted that, given the staggering number of Covid-19-related deaths in Los Angeles, she has received a significant increase in orders of condolence and sympathy.
“We may not be essential in terms of food, shelter, clothing, but mental health is essential, feeling connected to people is essential,” Ms. McClure said. “Our job is to help people stay connected during this time.”
Ms Gray also found a direct witness to the victims of the pandemic in her flower shop. After delivering an arrangement to a grieving woman who had just lost her husband to Covid-19 several months ago, Ms Gray collapsed crying in her car.
Another customer of Ms. Gray, a regular, lives in Hawaii. Currently unable to return to New York, she asks Mrs. Gray to deliver flowers to her parents’ graves at St. Michael’s Cemetery in East Elmhurst. “It’s interesting, she wasn’t in command before the pandemic,” Ms. Gray said. “But now we have long discussions about what she wants for her mom and dad.”
Mr Harkins has also noticed an increase in funeral orders. Due to capacity restrictions for funerals, these orders often now go directly to the homes of the bereaved, whereas previously they were sent to the funeral home. And, surprisingly for him, “people spend a lot of money to console their friends when they lose a pet,” Harkins said. “A lot of times they don’t know what to say, so what I suggest is, ‘Let’s not talk about the animal and death, let’s just say’ send lots of love, ellipses’ and sign your last name.'”
More than ever, florists are at the forefront of their clients’ most raw emotions: tuning agents brought in to alleviate suffering or loneliness with fragrant symbols of renewal.
“We’re getting more deliveries just to say hello and check in,” Ms. Gray said. “There’s this couple we just started getting orders from during the pandemic. He lives in Brooklyn and she lives in Queens, she takes care of her elderly mother. He sends her flowers every two weeks – beautiful arrangements, always decadent, gorgeous long-stemmed roses. If the pandemic hadn’t happened, he could have seen her and not sent her flowers. You should see the cards he writes. He is madly in love with her. They actually got into a fight, I think they broke up at one point. But they got back together. He continued to send flowers.
Emily Scott, owner of Floriconvento Flowers in Harlem, said customers and florists alike are aware of heightened sensitivities amid the pandemic. “There have been so many deaths, and it is such a delicate subject,” she said. “But whether it is a death or a great positive occasion like a new birth, there is still so much love that needs to be expressed.” As well as less clear emotions: “There are many nuances that can be recognized through the flowers.”
Indeed, some of Ms Scott’s deliveries aim to tie up ambiguous relationships, which presents the challenge of conveying intent without misleading the recipient. “A guy said to me, ‘I want to give these flowers to my daughter, but she’s not really my daughter.’ We need to interpret the little bits of information we get from customers to make sure we’re delivering the right message. “
Ms Scott said she was up to the task of emotional emissary: ”I feel privileged to be the bridge between the feelings of the client and those of the recipient.”
She noted that having flowers to look at can inspire much-needed morale breakthroughs. “Even if it’s just about changing the water in a vase, it can be good for mental health,” she said. “Giving people flowers gives them a healthy and meditative time. Maybe that’s what pulls them out of the depression gutter. People send flowers to encourage people. “
While waiting for a blessed future day when we can meet again, the little gardens that we give ourselves will have to be sufficient.