Despite a massive mid-February storm that even slowed the U.S. Postal Service in D.C., a U Street florist made sure that his Valentine’s Day deliveries didn’t get stuck in the snow.
The storm that dumped eight inches of snow in D.C., 10 inches at Thurgood Marshall/BWI Airport and more than 12 inches at Dulles Airport played havoc with local transportation and closed schools and businesses.
But Rick Lee, owner of Lee’s Flower and Card Shop at 1026 U St. N.W., told the AFRO that he was ready to push through miserable weather on Valentine’s Day, the busiest day of the year for the fourth-generation African American business.
After staying in business through the 1968 riots, violent drug traffic in the 1970s and subway construction in the 1990s in what has evolved into one of D.C.’s most vibrant neighborhoods, snow is not a barrier, he said.
“In Washington you never know what the weather is going to be,” said Lee. “They might predict the snowstorm and you might not get it, so it was hard for us to plan anything, we didn’t even know whether we were going to be delivering at all today.”
Lee said he met the weather challenge with five drivers making deliveries.
“Normally I can do all my deliveries with one driver but [Valentine’s Day volume] shows that we have that many more orders, and we’re getting them out,” said Lee, applauding the unexpected assistance he received from the city’s snow clearing crews and a brief rise in temperatures.
“If they hadn’t gotten the streets cleared or … it hadn’t warmed, we might have not been able to do anything,” he said.
On a normal day, Lee said he has 12 full-time employees working at the flower shop. On Feb. 14, he had about 25 people, including drivers, working to ensure operations ran smoothly.
The store usually closes at 6 p.m., but stayed open until 8 p.m. on Valentine’s Day.
But even though Lee’s team worked through the storm, there were weather-related glitches in the delivery process.
“A lot of people weren’t able to send flowers downtown to their girlfriend or wife’s job because of the fact that a lot of them were not at work today, so that was difficult,” he said during a brief break on Valentine’s Day.
On special days like Valentine’s Day, Lee expects to make at least 250 deliveries and expects 500 customers to visit the store.
Walk-in customers do not just buy fresh flowers, he added. Lee’s Flower and Card Shop also sells stuffed animals, balloons, candies and ethnic cards made by local D.C. residents. It is also a major floral source for funerals, anniversaries and retirements.
Lee’s Flower and Card is a family-owned business that was launched by Lee’s father, William P. Lee in 1945. “It was a place where you could go and do artistic things, and a place you could make some money doing it so that’s why he did it,” said Lee.
Lee took over the business in 1985, after his dad had asked him to come into the florist business full-time. Counting the time he worked there as a boy, Lee said he has been in the flower business for 45 years, and is now retired. His two daughters now manage the shop.
“Our business is thriving. We’re the oldest flower shop in Washington and we have four generations working here,” he said.
“We are always moving forward, trying to stay on the cutting edge of floral design. It can always be better, especially during the times when we had that economic downturn, we were still kind of holding on.”
Lee says there has been growth coming out of U Street, thanks to the changing demographics of what was once the nation’s largest urban African American corridor. Legendary singer Pearl Bailey labeled the area that once teemed with Black entertainment and shopping venues the “Black Broadway.” Lee says he also tries to keep up with the current trends in order to “stay current at all times.”
His oldest daughter, Stacie, is the general manager and president of the business and the youngest, Kristie, is the vice-president. But even after retirement, Lee is currently the chairman of the board.
“ I want to make sure that people understand that this is one of the premier African-American businesses that has four generation working here and that we have been in business for 70 years,” he said.
“I feel really blessed that my children followed in my footsteps and that their children want to follow in their footstep. You don’t see that happening too much in any ethnicity, for an African-American it’s significant.”