The only way the owners of Needham Florist could describe the predicament they found themselves in on Friday was, “an absolute Valentine’s nightmare.”
Just two days before one of the busiest days in the floral industry, the Needham Center business announced it was putting operations on hold, and refunding hundreds of orders that had been placed for loved ones ahead of Valentine’s Day weekend.
The reason for the sudden shutdown? One of the shop’s seasonal employees was exposed to COVID-19 and tested positive for the virus.
“Of all weeks for this to happen (not that anytime is good but this is absolutely catastrophic),” the owners of Needham Florist wrote in a Facebook post on Friday. “This is absolutely devastating to all of us.”
In the post, the company said that as soon as they found out the employee tested positive they informed all of their staff to get tested and not report to work. Out of an abundance of caution, the floral business said, they are putting their livelihood aside, quite possibly at the worst time for a small business that has already struggled through the pandemic.
The move means “taking the largest financial loss for a florist ... for the health and well being of YOU, our more than valued customers,” the post said.
“Please know that HUNDREDS of loving spouses and family members have called us to send flowers to you for this special loving holiday,” the post said. “As though the pandemic hasn’t been bad enough, but now you’re going to be without the flowers that were ordered for you.”
Reached by phone Friday, owner Julie Ben-David, who runs the shop with her husband, Avi, said the couple were the only two in the store, and instead of spending what would have been a day putting together arrangements with staff, they were making heartbreaking calls to customers about giving them refunds.
“I need to get in contact with every customer,” said Ben-David, who sounded distraught as the phones rang continuously in the background. “Even though I’m technically supposed to be quarantining, I’m quarantining in my store right now and informing everybody,” about their orders.
The loss of orders, she said, will come at a huge cost. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Needham Florist also lost out on providing floral arrangements at many weddings, proms, recitals, graduations, and birthday celebrations, she said.
“I’m just taking a huge financial hit,” she said.
Ben-David, who has been in business for 25 years, said she doesn’t know what the rules are for donating the flower inventory, since she has had direct contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. She said she plans to get tested for the coronavirus sometime Friday, after she finishes reaching out to customers.
Ideally, she said, she would like to donate them to “hospitals, nursing homes, or schools, but I don’t even know if they’d be willing to take them.”
“It may just all have to go in the dumpster,” Ben-David said. “I don’t know what the right thing is to do.”
Although the situation came with bad timing, Ben-David said the community has been incredibly supportive and understanding about it, with many promising to come back after the company is in the clear. A Needham police officer was even helping deliver orders that were already finished Friday.
On Facebook, where Ben-David wrote that her “heart is in a billion pieces,” people posted well-wishes and tried to think of ways they could possibly support the family-owned-and-operated business, including offering to help deliver some of the flowers if possible.
“Maybe, Needham friends, we can plan a day of celebration to make up for this loss. Maybe the return of spring,” one person suggested.
Another person wrote, “Perhaps people (that can afford to do so) would feel good about giving the money as a donation to a small business that has been in business in this town for all these years and has been so hard-working and dedicated!”
Ben-David said it’s been that kind of mentality in town — and from customers in surrounding towns — that has helped keep them afloat since last March.
“We have been able to survive because of that,” she said. “But florists depend on the holidays ... and now this. It’s kind of hard. It’s a tough hit to take.”