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RI BUSINESS

As pandemic eases, florists’ businesses blossom again in Rhode Island

Cancelled weddings have been rescheduled, and Mother’s Day offers a much-welcomed boost

With an uptick in walk-in customers and orders for Mother's Day, flower shops in Rhode Island are seeing a boost to their businesses, which were hard hit during the pandemic.
With an uptick in walk-in customers and orders for Mother's Day, flower shops in Rhode Island are seeing a boost to their businesses, which were hard hit during the pandemic.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — Joy Rich, owner of Flowerthyme in Wakefield, Rhode Island, had to close her storefront to walk-in customers once the pandemic hit. She furloughed her four employees in March 2020 and worked alone, taking all orders and making all of the floral arrangements herself.

“It’s all non-contact, it’s very different,” says Rich, who has owned the shop for 28 years. “I kind of miss talking to people, but this is what we’re doing now.”

Even with restrictions loosening this spring, Rich decided to keep her storefront closed to walk-in business, though she has rehired two part-time team members and now offers curbside pick up.

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Last year was challenging for Flowerthyme. Eighty percent of her business is wedding arrangements, but nearly all wedding jobs were either postponed or reduced to 25-person celebrations, often leaving Rich to make only a bouquet and a boutonniere rather than the 30 centerpieces and other decorations she had originally been hired to create.

But even without walk-in customers, Rich saw major spikes in holiday orders, having the best Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day in her shop’s history in 2020. And 2021 is looking promising so far: The events that were canceled in 2020 have been rebooked for this year, and beginning June 5, the state will allow 300 people outside or 200 people inside at weddings and other catered events. Rich has had many of her May and June weddings call to increase their orders. And she is experiencing Mother’s Day volumes to be just as high as before, or higher.

Last year, Rich had to stop taking orders for Mother’s Day, in order to be able to complete them all herself. This year, with her small team back in the shop, she’s been able to take more orders and anticipates a big Mother’s Day boost.

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“I’m so grateful to be working and to be in a business that can bring some joy and happiness and healing to some people,” Rich said. “People have been calling and giving great reviews, and saying how touched their mom was that she got some beautiful flowers. People have been very appreciative it seems, a lot more since the pandemic.”

Richard Espeut, who has owned Frey Florist in Providence for 48 years, has kept his business alive because of what he calls the “emotional impact of flowers.” More people have been ordering flowers as gifts for others, he says, and the number of floral bouquets Frey has done for hospital patients and nursing homes this past year has made up for the loss of business from large events.

The pandemic changed the reasons people order flowers as well, according to Espeut. Thanksgiving, once just a “blip on the radar,” turned into an entire season of giving flowers. Christmas became one of his store’s busiest holidays.

“They realized what it was that they were not able to have, and so they sent flowers,” Espeut said.

And while people still send flowers for funerals, they’re sending them to the homes of people who have lost loved ones rather than to the funeral parlor.

“At the real height of the pandemic, there were no calling hours,” Espeut said. “There was really no sense in sending quite a lot of flowers to the funeral, but we did end up sending quite a lot of things to the home.”

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At the start of the pandemic, Espeut’s storefront was closed, but business still continued. With a reduced team — just him and one other employee — he had to begin picking up the flowers from his wholesale seller, creating the arrangements and delivering them throughout the greater Providence area himself.

1-800-Flowers, one of the largest online floral retailers in the country, saw similar trends in sympathy orders when funeral numbers rose in 2020. According to President Amit Shah, the company found new ways to adapt, through sending arrangements to homes or ordering prepared gift baskets via their Harry & David brand. 1-800-Flowers reported their highest revenue in the second fiscal quarter of 2021, seeing an increase of $271.6 million, or 44.8 percent.

Mother’s Day is traditionally one of the largest holidays for flower giving. 1-800-Flowers expects to deliver over 23 million stems to mothers throughout the country this year.

Last year, Rhode Island entered phase one of reopening around the same time as Mother’s Day. For the first time in months, Espeut opened his storefront, his full four-person team returned, and the shop had one of its busiest Mother’s Days in history between both delivery and walk-in orders.

This year, Espeut is expecting similar numbers. He and his team have been preparing bouquets for walk-in customers and putting together hanging and annual planters that are always in high demand for Mother’s Day.

“So many people wait until the very last minute, and we do tremendous walk-in business,” Espeut said. “We’re close to Providence College, so kids that maybe are going home for this weekend for Mother’s Day will probably swing in on their way by. We are jam-packed with deliveries.”

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