JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Cambria City Flowers owner Steven Biter said his shop, which is attached to his house, is operating at half capacity as a precaution against the coronavirus.
Like other florists, he introduced no-contact delivery that will endure beyond the pandemic.
“We are trying to get through it,” he said. “But contactless delivery is going to be staying. We call customers and tell them we are coming. Then we set their flowers outside.”
Flower shops have seen increased business as people look to cheer up those who are sick as well as mourning. But the pandemic has also affected flower shops’ supply and operations, as well as their ability to interact with customers.
Biter said flower supply chains haven’t recovered since initial economic shutdowns in the spring.
“Selection has gone down quite a bit,” he said. “Everybody is going through the same thing.”
Equipment, such as vases, easel stands, wicker baskets, wire and styrofoam, all have decreased as factories that mass-produce them have cut production because of COVID-19, said Bill Schrader, owner of Schrader’s Florist & Greenhouse Inc. in Geistown Borough.
Demand, however, has been steady.
“A lot of people are sending loved ones flowers for birthdays because they are not traveling and visiting,” Schrader said. “So there’s more of a demand. It’s been a challenge the whole way around.”
It’s been a tough year trying to keep inventory, he said. As a recent example, he had difficulty getting poinsettias for Christmas.
Schrader’s supplier, Miller’s Greenhouse in Wilmore, saw the writing on the wall in June and decided this year not to invest in the poinsettias’ red and green foliage that is a hallmark of Christmas floral arrangements.
“We didn’t grow them, because it costs thousands of dollars,” Miller’s owner Kathryn Miller said. “And in June, we saw (the pandemic) wasn’t getting any better. And we talked to a lot of people. They said no one is going to church.”
Miller’s was hit hard – especially by the closure of its biggest customers, college food services. School closures took away the market for Miller’s hydroponically grown lettuce.
With greenhouse space to spare, Miller’s children experimented with growing hemp, which was federally legalized as a commodity with the 2018 United States farm bill.
“They didn’t grow a lot,” she said. “They just wanted to see if they could do it.”
‘We are trying’
And it worked. Moving forward, she said the greenhouse may continue producing hemp for CBD or cannabidiol that is used in a range of health products.
The global CBD oil and CBD consumer health market size is expected to reach $123.2 billion by 2027, expanding at an average annual rate of about 26% over the forecast period, according to Research and Markets.
But Miller’s concern is with the immediate future with the pandemic.
“It’s awful,” she said. “It’s getting harder and harder. We are not a big business.”
She said the greenhouse received a Paycheck Protection Program loan from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, but it was only supposed to last two months.
“We are trying, we are not sure exactly what the future holds,” she said.
“If colleges get back, business would be fine.
“It’s not just us, it’s everyone.”