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Area florists facing possible flower shortage on Mother’s Day horizon

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MASSENA - Despite reports of the worst flower shortage in a quarter of a century, florists in St. Lawrence County are staying calm before the storm that is the week leading up to Mother’s Day.

Florists mainly blame South American flower farms for the shortage, because in recent years those farmers have switched from growing flowers to vegetables as a way to increase profits. Traditional flowers that are primarily grown in the country and shipped to the U.S. — carnations, roses, lilies and alstroemerias — are a rare commodity this season, said Kevin R. Kitto, owner of Sherwood Florist at Watertown Shopping Plaza, 1314 Washington St.

The acute shortage comes as florists are being bombarded with orders for Mother’s Day, which falls on May 11.

“We are having difficulty getting certain things, especially bread-and-butter flowers that we use every day,” said Mr. Kitto, who has owned the shop for 25 years. “There has been a shortage, because a lot of the farms in South America, where a lot of the flowers come from, are in the process of converting from flowers to growing vegetables and other crops because it’s more profitable.”

The national scarcity of flowers this spring has been the worst Mr. Kitto has witnessed in the past 25 years. Some flowers aren’t readily available on short notice at the shop, and customers may have a difficult time filling orders for certain varieties.

Massena’s Downtown Florist owner Patty M. Wells has noticed a shortage this year, but she is convinced that there is another reason.

“There is a shortage. It has a lot to do with a lot of holidays coming so close together,” she said. “(Flowers) have to grow quicker and it takes time for that. It’s definitely tougher with all of the holidays coming together with prom, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day and Easter, etc. We have a good wholesaler, and we’ll be able to get most of the flowers we are looking for though.”

Ms. Wells said one type of flower that may be hard to come by is the Gerbera Daisy. “You can still get them now but they are harder to get in larger bunches,” she said.

Potsdam’s Village Florist owner Kelly Keleher said that she had heard of the issues stemming from South America but did not have any more information on the subject.

“There wasn’t any kind of shortage at Valentine’s Day. I am told that issues are coming from South America and when fuel prices go up, it’s always a problem too,” she said. “It’s worse than the recession.”

Ms. Wells and Ms. Keleher, as well as Verville’s Flowers owner (Massena) Rachel Hurlbut, seem to agree on which types of purchases are the most popular leading up to Mother’s Day.

“Around this time of year, usually just a nice mix, a nice spring mix is common. A lot of the brightly colored types of flowers are popular this time of year,” Ms. Wells said.

“Nobody ever asks for dark and depressing, they always want bright, shiny flowers, spring flowers. This isn’t a problem though because we have plenty of those in stock. Around this time of year, those types – tulips, etc. – are always in high demand,” Ms. Keleher added.

“We do a lot of mixed bouquets and roses are always popular. Mostly spring flowers are in high demand, tulips and iris as well,” Ms. Hurlbut said.

Willow Tree Florist and Landscaping in Potsdam receives most of their supplies from Canada and has largely avoided the issues that some in Watertown have seen.

“We received one email from one of our growers and that was the first we heard of it. They were saying that there was a shortage of flowers and they were trying to find other sources. They were hoping (the problem) was going to go away soon,” Jennifer L. Blanchard said. “We get a great majority of our supplies from a place in Canada and they do them in greenhouses. However, we are not having a problem. Other people use different sources so it may affect them more. The only problem we are having is a small shortage of snapdragons and that is caused by the weather and how late the season is this year.”

Ms. Wells, Ms. Keleher and Ms. Hurbut all noted Mother’s Day sales and Valentine’s Day numbers generally mark the highest sales of the year.

They did, however have a variety of views regarding the different ways in which each holiday plays out.

“Mother’s Day is one of the top holidays. Valentine’s Day, most everyone wants them on the 14th but with this time of year, we have the whole week leading up,” Ms. Wells said. “For Mother’s Day, it gives us a little bit more of a window and a little bit more time to take care of our customers. There are a lot of different varieties of arrangements. Valentine’s Day tends to be a lot of roses.”

“For Valentine’s Day, everything has to be out on one day. For Mother’s Day, everything has to be out the whole week so it is much more spread out,” Ms. Keleher explained.

“I think that people prepare more for Mother’s Day whereas Valentine’s Day is more of a last minute thing. That might be because the demographic is primarily men buying the flowers,” Ms. Hurlbut added. “It is important to call your local florists rather than calling the 1-800 numbers. You won’t be charged as much, will get great service and it is always great to help out your local businesses.”

The limited supply of flowers nationwide has also affected operations this spring at Gray’s Flowers Shop, which has locations in Watertown, Carthage, Clayton and at Fort Drum. Owner Scott A. Gray said that he is busy searching on a daily basis to buy flowers grown in South America, California and Canada from wholesalers, but they are often out of stock.

“It was bad last year, but it’s really bad this year,” Mr. Gray said. “One of my suppliers recently got a grower sheet from a South American farm, and everything is not available. You can no longer assume everything is available. We’re seeing a 20 to 30 percent price increase. And we haven’t changed our prices yet, but it’s inevitable that change is coming. I’m going to distribute a new price list to all of my staff on a daily basis.”

One of the main flower suppliers for the business, Empire Floral Supply of Syracuse, recently told Mr. Gray to find another seller because its inventory was depleted.

As a result of skyrocketing demand in the spring for flowers, prices set by wholesalers who sell bulk quantities to Sherwood Florist have climbed by 20 to 30 percent in recent years, Mr. Kitto said.

Mr. Gray attributed the underlying cause of the spring flower shortage to the national economic downturn, which has made consumers less willing to spend their disposable income on flowers. As demand for fllowers has ebbed, South American farmers reacted by producing less and growing other crops, instead.

The flower supply is inadequate, as a result, when peak demand for inventory arrives in the spring, Mr. Gray said.

“The demand of our industry has been soft because of the economy,” he said. “If the U.S. economy doesn’t come back, this is going to continue because the demand for our prod is going to be soft on the off times, and it can’t handle the huge peaks and very low valleys. We have to close that gap.”

The long winter across the Northeast also took a toll the industry by increasing the cost of shipping flowers, Mr. Gray said.

“Shipping was tough, because it was slower and more expensive,” he said.

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Staff writer Ted Booker contributed to this story.

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