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‘Opposite ends of the spectrum’: Wickenden florists brace for Trader Joe’s competition

Owners emphasize differences between florists, grocery store flowers

Trader Joe’s is set to open later this month in Fox Point, offering East Side residents another option for groceries, along with flowers, plants and seasonal bouquets for bargain prices. The long-awaited grocery store will share a neighborhood with a number of mom-and-pop florists on Wickenden Street.

While the local shop owners told The Herald that there is no beating Trader Joe’s prices, they strive to offer high-end floral arrangements to a different clientele. They said they are not too concerned about the grocery chain’s opening affecting business, as local florists operate in different realms of the flower market.

“I don’t expect a grocery store to impact me much at all other than ‘smash-and-grab’ people that just want to show up (and) make it part of their grocery shopping,” said Gary D’Amario, owner and “everything person” of City Gardens Flower Shop. “I do specialized work. … I’m not a bargain basement, I don’t compete, I don’t have sales … and I try to buy the highest quality flowers I can find.”

After over 42 years in the flower business, D’Amario said he has built a loyal clientele that depends on him for a variety of occasions. “I have enough people that keep me in business whereas if I chose, I wouldn’t even have to open the door to walk-ins,” he said. “I could operate very well just with my own customer base.”

“I don’t do cookie-cutter business. Everything is made to the order, individually,” D’Amario said. “People get things very inexpensively from Trader Joe’s, and that’s great. But it’s not something that I feel is going to impact me negatively.”

Trader Joe’s uses low prices “to attract customers to the store and then makes profit on other items they sell,” wrote Matthew Bellotti, owner of Studio 539 Flowers, in an email to The Herald. “We cannot compete with these prices since they are often below what our wholesaler buys them for.”

“For people that shop only for price, this is good, but if you require design, interesting containers or just advice, we can beat a Trader Joe’s every time,” Bellotti added.

“Our prices result from our diligent efforts to deliver the best value to our customers,” wrote Nakia Rohde, Trader Joe’s public relations manager, in an email to The Herald. “We have more than 500 stores across the country, which allows us to buy in very large quantities, directly from growers around the world, resulting in top-quality plants and flowers at excellent everyday prices at every Trader Joe’s store.”

But locals on Wickenden said they take a different approach to floristry.

“Studio 539 Flower is unique due to its craftsmanship. A good floral designer takes years to develop their skills,” wrote Bellotti, who opened his shop 19 years ago. “We can offer design services that a supermarket can't” by hand picking flowers daily and placing special emphasis on quality.

“Supermarkets have decimated the mom-and-pop flower shops, so in order to survive we have had to offer something other than just an inexpensive product,” Bellotti wrote. “We offer what a corporation cannot: expertise, design skill and customer relationships that have spanned years.”

D’Amario said sometimes people don’t understand the difference between the services his business offers and what you can get at a bigger store.

“Younger people like students have no concept of what a true florist actually is,” he said. “They seem to think that a florist is the same as a grocery store. It’s opposite ends of the spectrum.”

“I hope the activity that Trader Joe’s brings to the area exposes people to what they have been missing,” Bellotti wrote. "Old school customer service and a quality product for celebrations of those special occasions of life.”



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