Berks County flower shop owner Amy Muckey knew her business was going to take a financial hit when the coronavirus pandemic took hold of Pennsylvania, but she thought she could weather the disease.
Then Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all non-life-sustaining businesses to close on March 19 and a flower shop is not considered a life sustaining business.
On March 20, Wolf amended his order, delaying enforcement until Monday, March 23, at 8 a.m. because of the high volume of businesses seeking waivers.
When Wolf suggested, earlier in the week, that businesses close, Muckey heeded his advice and closed her shop to the public but offered curbside and delivery service. Now she’s closing until the pandemic blows over.
“It’s really going to hurt,” said Muckey, who owns Steins Flowers in Shillington. “I'm a little more depressed today. It’s not easy. You just have to take one day at a time. I know it’s bad and it’s going to get worse. But we’re all gonna come out of this and I keep thinking it’s going to be OK. You got to have hope.”
Muckey spent Friday, March 20, finishing up the last of her orders.
“It was busy today. Three customers texted me and one gave me seven orders," she said. "I was so excited I could catch one of two deliveries a day.”
Lourdes Peralta, who has been in the flower business for 34 years and has owned Sarai Flowers on North Ninth Street in the city of Reading, said her business was steady a couple weeks ago but then all of her events were canceled.
“It’s been very tough,” Peralta said. “I’m not an essential business. It’s one for celebrating, parties and entertainment. People are scared so most events are canceled. It’s hurting my business.”
Muckey said even flower arrangements for funerals have dwindled.
Both businesses have seen events like birthday parties and weddings canceled.
A huge hit to Muckey is when churches started canceling services. She arranges flowers for 18 churches every weekend.
Peralta has a contract with Reading Hospital to provide flowers for its gift shop, she won’t be able to do that anymore.
“But what am I going to do?” Peralta asked. “It’s better to save a life than worry about the loss of my inventory.”
Busy season cut off
Muckey said she came off a great 2019 and 2020 was looking good until now. What also hurts is she was gearing up for her busy season, which is April and May.
Easter, proms, Mother’s Day and graduations dominate those months.
“We make the most of our money in those months,” she said. “If this keeps going on and affects May, it’s not going to be good. If schools cancel though the rest of the year, I don’t know what they are doing with prom. It’s scary and that fear of the unknown. That’s what all of us are dealing with in the retail area.”
Muckey survived the economic downturn post-9/11 and the recession in 2008, but she's worried about what happens next.
“(A colleague) said ‘If we all come out of this alright it’s going to be like we’re starting over,' " she said, “like starting a brand new business. This is really scary.”
Peralta was also concerned about her fellow small business owners.
“I’m praying to God,” she said. “I’m praying that all of this will pass. It's very big and we don’t know what to expect. I’m concerned businesses will be forced to close.”
Despite having to shutter their businesses during the pandemic, both owners are finding a reason to smile.
Peralta now has time to spend with her daughter, Sarai, 8.
“It’s been centuries since I’ve spent this much time with my child,” she said. “I’ve been giving her my undivided attention.”
Her daughter is happy to have time with her mother, too.
“She’s telling me ‘you’re making all the food I want to eat,’ ” Peralta said. “She’s ecstatic because she has her mom all to herself.”
When Muckey thought she could still stay open for pickups and deliveries, she kept receiving her standing flower order she gets every Monday. She did cut it back, but she still kept it and now she’s going to be stuck with the flowers.
Rather risk them wilting and dying, she’s going to give them away.
“A lot of people are sad right now,” she said. “You just gotta keep making people happy. I’m going to have a ton of flowers on Monday and everyone I know will be getting flowers for free.”