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New York City Florists Adapt as COVID Hits their Bottom Line

KATIE ANASTAS, HOST: For most people flower shops are the place they go to for Valentine’s Day or before dinner with their in-laws. But for local florists in Manhattan, the heart of the business is corporate work. Like the flowers you see in hotel lobbies or in executive suites at the office.

NICOLE MCNULTY, HOST: In the past year those clients have nearly vanished. So florists in the city are doing what they can to get by. Jack Stone Truitt has the story.

JACK STONE TRUITT, BYLINE: Gramercy Park Flower Shop in the Plaza Hotel has been selling New Yorkers flowers since 1904. It has weathered world wars, the great depression, even another pandemic. But nothing has hit its bottom line like this last year. Owner Tom Sakas says business is down 90% from a year ago.

TOM SAKAS: All the corporate work, that 52 weeks a year, you're sending flowers to many companies. Every weekend, you're doing a wedding, none of that is happening.

TRUITT: Since the pandemic, flower deliveries nationally are actually trending upward as people order online. But Manhattan’s flower industry has been hit hard. Hotels, restaurants, weddings. All of those orders are more or less gone.

TRUITT: Flowers on Essex, located in Chelsea, has lost three of its four main hotel accounts. And the one remaining is operating at just 10% of its usual capacity. Owner Bill Frazer says he took out a small business loan and began wholesaling roses just to get by. Valentine’s Day typically brings Frazer 25-30 thousand dollars in sales. This year he will be happy to get a third of that.

BILL FRAZER: I've been in business 38 years, so I have some customers that will call me all the time for holidays and stuff. But even a lot of them have cut back a little bit because I think money is tight with a lot of people.

TRUITT: It doesn’t help that this year’s holiday comes amidst a snowstorm and lands on a Sunday, usually a slow day for flower deliveries.

FRAZER: It's kind of a double hit, you know, we get hit twice as hard this year.

TRUITT: The heart of Manhattan’s floral industry is on 28th street between 6th and 7th Avenue. Walking down the block these days many storefronts are dark, and the ones that are open are having to adapt. Some, like Starbright Floral Design, are doing better than others.

NIC FAITOS: We have used every possible resource that you can imagine.

TRUITT: Owner Nic Faitos says before the pandemic, online and individual orders were not a key part of Starbright’s business. But that’s changed as employees of their former corporate clients have become new individual customers who order online.

TRUITT: He says other shops have had a harder time pivoting and finding new customers. But he tries to speak with other florists and share business ideas as best he can.

FAITOS: This is not a time to cheer on. When you know, let's say a competitor is not doing well. This is a time that we all need to band together and to support each other and to make sure that everybody makes it through.

TRUITT: Faitos and others await Manhattan’s corporate world to open back up. But are hoping for a much needed boost from Valentine’s Day.

TRUITT: Jack Stone Truitt, Columbia Radio News.

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