Florists Wilt in the Face of an Overwhelming Pandemic

By Angelo Gefeke

With the rise of a pandemic and America becoming the country with the highest rate of deaths due to COVID-19, most small businesses knew they would face immense changes. The florist business was no exception. Unfortunately, most florists in the New Orleans area have suffered a great financial loss due to the initial closures of non-essential businesses and decrease in demand.

Gene Luke, owner of Ambrose Garden LLC and a local florist in New Orleans, shared many details about how the florist business has changed amidst the pandemic. When asked if he was forced to close up his shop back in the spring, he responded, “Well of course we closed just like everything else did. However, we reopened for Mother’s Day because I was getting so many phone calls because I had the phones transferred to my own phone. My staff hasn’t come back yet because they have been making more off of unemployment and I couldn’t afford to pay them now, which is fine as it actually helped me get through the summer by not having a staff here that I needed to pay.” Despite being reopened, Ambrose Garden has lost a majority of business, especially with larger events. Even though weddings are now allowed with a limit of 50 people or less in attendance, most weddings scheduled over the summer and fall have either been canceled or rescheduled for next year. Besides weddings being cancelled, the florist business also suffered loss due to the lack of large dinner parties and fundraisers. Events like these are major revenue streams for florists and therefore imperative to the success of their businesses. 

Despite the many weddings that have been canceled or rescheduled, florists have been allowed to do some funeral work. As COVID deaths in just the Orleans Parish alone have reached a staggering total of 584, many family members and friends in the area wish to buy their late loved one flowers. Funerals are one of the largest sources of income for florist businesses and have helped doors stay open, but unfortunately the financial strain is far deeper rooted than that. Florist shops such as Ambrose Garden have taken a huge hit financially due to the current pandemic and the regulations that go alongside it. Gene stated that he has worries and concerns regarding the future of his business during this time. “My main worry is income and being able to make a certain amount of money every month to just keep the doors open and pay utilities, rent, insurance, and all the normal expenses I have during a year, but instead it is on a much tighter budget then I had before.” Even though florists’ shops have slowly been opening back up, the impact of the initial shutdowns we saw in the Spring still weighs heavily on their ability to remain open.

Another issue Gene expressed was his ability to obtain flowers to sell in his shop when he first reopened. “At first our wholesalers where telling us, because florists were nonessential, that they had closed too… and for a while, shipping had closed and my wholesalers were not getting flowers, so I had to close.” The florist industry is extremely dependent on its supply chain. When a part of the distribution chain is dismantled, such as the wholesalers, the farmers will have nowhere for their product to ship and an entire flower industry begins to fall apart. As told by Gene, “MAYESH is one of the wholesalers in California that decided they can still send flowers out without using the normal vendors because grocery stores where still asking for flowers and receiving them. Farms did start producing again however, they lost a lot of money because they lost the last batch that they grew. It takes at least 2 months for them to regrow for the market.” A great majority of flower wholesalers in America had stopped selling product due to the many farm closures. Looking for other ways to receive flower shipments, Gene contacted farms in South America to help meet his growing demand. Farms in South America are a major supplier of the flower industry in Europe, and now of Ambrose Gardens. Fortunately, Gene was able to find a way around the American farm closures and still receive his flowers to sell in order to keep his business open.

Despite all the negatives that have come from this global pandemic and how badly it has affected the country, there is still hope for the future, and especially for local florist businesses. American flower farms have begun to reopen and are starting to produce more varieties of flowers to meet the increasing demand that will come once a vaccine is available and social distancing restrictions are lifted. 

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