Signs of life in US flower industry following pandemic struggles

Coronavirus

LOS ANGELES (NewsNation Now) — In a typical year, Americans spend an estimated $26 billion on floral products. But this year, a lengthy coronavirus shutdown nearly wiped out the flower industry and California was especially hard hit. But the surviving companies said they are clinging to a rosier outlook.

The customers and beautiful displays are back at the LA Flower District which was allowed to reopen right before Mother’s Day. During the sudden shutdown from March to May, quarantined consumers had bigger concerns.

“I wasn’t going to buy flowers from anywhere, not even the grocery store,” said Karis Jackson.

But now, demand is creeping back up and providing hope. After laying off 92% of its staff, Mellano and Company has brought back about half. Bob Mellano credits a federal PPP loan for saving his family company.

“We would probably be out of business, and we’ve been in business near a hundred years,” said Mellano. “In fact, a lot of businesses did go out here in this little district.”

The cut flower wholesalers and vendors were the hardest hit as the pandemic cut right through the wedding and event season. On top of that, the vendors were hit with the early cancellation of the Rose Parade.

“We provide over 50% of flowers to the Rose Parade, goes back generations,” said Mellano. “I’m the third generation in the business. My first memories of the business was the Rose Parade.”

Many nesting Americans may be a lifeline for the industry as people brighten their spaces with flowers since they’re home more often to see them.

Toine Overgaag is the owner of Westerlay Orchids in Carpinteria, north of LA. His inventory and business picture are much prettier these days.

“It was really scary. We had four weeks where we were at 25% of our normal sales. Not down 25%, down 75%. And hundreds of thousands of orchids with no home, not knowing what was going to happen,” said Overgaag.

During the shutdown, Westerlay Orchids gave away nearly a hundred thousand orchid plants to front line health workers.

With perishable goods, unexpected shutdowns and reopenings complicate an already delicate business.

“When we originally got shutdown, I think we threw away here in this location alone, about $150,000 worth of flowers, that we get no relief for,” said Mellano. “So it was a complete and total loss.”

“Everything is scheduled out. There’s no turning the back, the train has left the station, it’s coming. So when all those orders got cancelled, we were looking at hundreds of thousands of orchids,” said Overgaag.

With new protocols in place, growers and vendors hope the industry can stay on an open track and that consumers keep gardening and buying flowers when possible for a bit of brightness through a dark time.

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