A close-up photo of a large purple Gerber daisy. The petal tips are slightly lighter in color, and they look delicate. An assortment of other flowers is visible around and behind the daisy.
Local flower shops are thriving in Lincoln, with floral arrangements available for any occasion. Despite a global flower shortage, the busiest wedding season in almost four decades and challenges from online floral delivery services —these hometown flower designers are making people smile with every arrangement they create. Photo by Dominic Bhola/NNS.

Despite warnings earlier this year of a global shortage of fresh flowers, which precariously coincided with this year’s influx of post-pandemic weddings, Lincoln florists say business is thriving and their supply of flowers is stable.

With more than 15 flower shops over Lincoln — even a flower truck or two — Lincoln customers can find a nearby location for all their floral needs, whether it’s a last-minute bouquet or a keepsake terrarium.

For florists in Lincoln, they’re in the business of making people happy.

“My favorite part is making people smile,” said Dale “Tony” Kohles of Luv It Gift and Flower Shop, 5100 N. 27th St., who was getting ready to make his 18th flower delivery of the day. “My wife has a big smile on her face when she presents an arrangement to somebody, and they have a big smile on their face. It’s just the atmosphere.” 

Lincoln florists said business is blooming — they’re busier than ever, even though experts said the flower industry has been globally affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Challenges include a scarcity of certain flowers, less growers available to cultivate and handpick flowers and a shortage of delivery drivers. But local florists said they are doing well without many major setbacks.

Luv It Gift and Flower Shop opened right before Mother’s Day in 2021. Kohles and his wife, Thu, purchased the contents of an existing business which closed due to the pandemic. Once they found a location, they reinvented the business into the flower shop it is today.

Rachel Hillman, who has worked at Hy-Vee Floral on 1601 N 84th St. for 17 years, said shipping delays were sometimes inconvenient, especially for non-floral items like glassware or vases. However, Hillman said the demand for floral arrangements actually increased during the pandemic. 

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A yellow rose with baby’s breath is one of the many fresh bouquets customers can select at Flowerworks. Photo by Dominic Bhola/NNS.

“People couldn’t go out and do things, or they couldn’t go places,” she said. “But they could still have flowers delivered. So they did.” 

Hillman said that flowers can show comfort and compassion and connect others through the act of gift-giving.

“It was more to say, ‘Thinking of you. I miss you. I wish we were together,’ that sort of thing,” Hillman said, “It was a way of connecting with people that couldn’t be together in other ways that they were used to being together.”

Florists are also great listeners — Hillman said people will often open up to their florists. 

“They have a story to tell of why they’re sending the flowers, and they share that information with us. There’s a lot of special stories out there.”

Florists design arrangements for every occasion, from the most joyous to the most difficult. They create arrangements for birthdays, anniversaries, memorials and funerals — and everything in between. 

“We just got done with homecoming,” said Jerry Girdner, who has co-owned Flowerworks, 6900 O St., for 21 years. “So we had lots of corsages.” 

Weddings are a major source of revenue for floral designers. Peak wedding season occurs between May to October, according to a 2021 study by The Knot, but more brides are opting for autumn or winter weddings. Experts say 2022 is likely to have 2.5 million weddings nationally, the highest number of projected weddings in almost 40 years. 

“And you know, those kids are young,” Girdner said. “If you do a fabulous job for their wedding, they’re going to be your customer forever.”

With so many events and occasions, local flower shops said they have a steady demand for custom orders that keep them busy year-round.

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Assorted bouquets are on display at Flowerworks. At the left, a white rose is arranged along with a green hydrangea and various blue flowers. In the middle, purple lilies are blooming next to green buds still waiting to open, a blue spiky flower, and a vanilla white rose. At the right, a cheerful sunflower is presented with deep purple blooms around. Photo by Dominic Bhola/NNS.

One challenge remains for local florists: floral delivery services. Services such as 1-800-Flowers or Teleflora are usually an online mediator between local florists and consumers. The service processes the order and payment, then forwards the order to a local flower shop which is responsible for the arrangement and delivery.  

But floral delivery services take a certain percentage of the profits, Kohles said, and once the delivery and additional fees are factored in, the local florist is left with a meager budget to create their bouquets. 

Hillman said the lower budget explains why some customers might receive bouquets that are smaller or different than they ordered. She said she’s trying to educate customers about these floral delivery services, but it’s a process.

 “They might be expecting a bigger arrangement, a different arrangement, but we’re filling the order to value with the money that we received,” she said. 

Most local florists have their own online ordering system or custom orders can be placed by phone.

“If you call the local florists direct, they have more money to work with and they can make a better arrangement,” Kohles said. 

Girdner said the service from local flower shops is a huge advantage, too. 

“It’s the personal touch,” he said. “Everything’s perfect when it leaves here. It’s like a night and day difference.”

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Florists keep their bouquets in chilly fridges to preserve the flowers’ freshness, like this one at Flowerworks. Many of the flowers are imported from various countries around the world, including Columbia, Ecuador, and the Netherlands. Photo by Dominic Bhola/NNS.

When it comes to the flowers, Lincoln florists said they try to support local growers and incorporate Nebraska-native florals when possible. For the most part, their florals are imported from various locations across the United States and countries all over the world. This includes robust roses from Ecuador, lilies from Columbia, peonies from the Netherlands, or other florals from Texas and Florida.

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In preparation for the holiday season, Lincoln florists design seasonal bouquets, such as this arrangement from Flowerworks with ruby red roses and snowy baby’s breath. Photo by Dominic Bhola/NNS.

Since most of the flowers are imported and stored at the optimal temperature, cold weather is not a concern for most flower shops. Ahead of winter, the florists said they will “shift seasons” by changing their color schemes to holiday tones, like creamy white and rich burgundy. Sometimes, they incorporate seasonal foliage like poinsettias or pine, but not always.

Local flower shops offer a wide variety of options year-round, everything from specialty arrangements to ‘just because’ bouquets for everyday customers.

“Everybody loves flowers,” said Jeanette Steiber, manager of Abloom Floral, 1451 O St., which opened in 2008. “They’re really such a thing of happiness.”

Steiber exuded productivity, organizing an arrangement while being interviewed. “I mean, for me, and I know a lot of people — if I take a couple stems home and I have them by my sink, or on my table, or in my living room, they just make me so happy,” she said. “They’re such a day brightener.”

Hillman said she hopes more people will pursue floral design as a career. She said there’s always new techniques to learn, but the basics stay the same — they’re always a part of people’s special days.

“We’re looking for the next generation of florists,” Hillman said, “I don’t know if it’s a dying art, if people are just going into other careers. Things are more tech based, but I would consider it kind of one of those things that’s in the creative field or arts field. And it’s just really, really hard to find employees anymore. So, just really looking for that next generation.”

Dominic Bhola is a journalist with an attraction to poetry. He is a senior journalism major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and will be graduating in December 2022. In his free time, he enjoys literary editing and growing strawberries.