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/ February 26, 2013
At Sunny’s Florist, A Billion Dollar Industry, One Bouquet At A Time

One-third of Valentine’s Day gift-givers in the U.S. were forecasted to buy flowers for their loved ones, with total Valentine’s Day spending on flowers in the U.S. expected to reach $1.9 billion. The nationwide frenzy for romantic gifts once again proved lucrative for business, and, as evidenced by their healthy overflow of customers that week, even the little guys like Sunny’s Florist in New York City’s East Village cashed in too.

Since around 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 14, New Yorkers from all five boroughs descended onto Sunny’s mini storefront on Second Ave and 6th Street, determined to buy the perfect bouquet. Around the corner of the block, and mostly out of view from the shop’s small front window, trailed a queue of men and women waiting restlessly in the cold. Passersby laughed as they snapped photos of the shivering assembly of steadfast romantics. “Mom,” warned Edward Hwang, 29, to Sun ‘Sunny’ Ja Hwang, 57, the eponymous florist, “Don’t look at the line.”

The line, which peaked at around 30 customers, didn’t end until after midnight, and the wait for some lasted up to two and a half hours. “On Valentine’s Day, no matter how many people come in, each person I give all the attention so that the person who stands there two hours thinks ‘Oh, it’s worth it to wait two hours,’” Hwang said. “I don’t want them to think, ‘I wasted my time.’”

“That whole week is busy,” Sunny said. “But on the 13th and 14th, we made $15,000.” Even her husband Paul Cho came down to help, taking time off from his full-time job. It’s a family affair. They didn’t even do deliveries this year because Sunny’s nephew, a sophomore at NYU, is studying abroad at NYU London this semester.

The business started after Hwang left her job as a paralegal for a Korean-American law firm after ten years. Their first store was in Brooklyn, but it closed down. “We lost $100,000,” Huang said. “But with this one we made it back. This is the smallest store, but this is the best store.” The Hwang’s have had five different locations over the years, but this one in the East Village stayed the most successful.

“I’m a businesswoman, so I think how much money I’m making but before that, this is the chance that I let the people know my work,” Hwang said. That is her view towards the holidays and periods of big surges in demand. Hwang does not advertise, and they do not curate a social media presence. However, that has not stopped them from earning a 4.5 star rating with dozens of reviews on “That’s how I get more business,” said Sunny, “Young people coming in everyday saying they read the reviews.” As Edward Hwang explained, “I don’t like social media. I don’t even like accepting orders because they’re calling from wherever the hell they’re calling from and I have customers right in front of me.”

Indeed, their Yelp profile is brimming with positive comments, but one unhappy reviewer who was part of that massive V-Day line lamented, “I underestimated how much care Sunny puts in arranging the bouquet. She probably spent 7/8 minutes per bouquet, and some customers bought more than one bouquet. So, I ended up waiting for over 1 hour and 45 minutes.”

But Necosha J., a loyal customer who has been buying from Sunny for three years, says “She and her son are one of a kind. They are actually creating art when they make their bouquets.” She didn’t buy flowers on Valentine’s Day, but she has waited in “that line” for Mother’s Day. “It’s always worth it, to be perfectly honest,” Necosha said, “I’ve never ever been disappointed. If I had gotten married here, I would have had her do my wedding.”

“When economy is good, they buy flowers, “said Hwang. “When economy is bad, instead of buying jewelry, they come here and then they get flowers.” As she described further, the Hwangs never felt the recession in 2008, because the bigger spenders from uptown would just buy her flowers instead because she had the quality they needed but at a lower price. “I’m different, my flower quality is top. They know I have top quality flowers,” smiled Sunny.

“We really do have the best customers any shop owners could ask for,” Edward Hwang said. “It’s less about the money than making sure that everybody walks away happy. In the long run, in the bigger picture, my mom and I can agree that that’s more important.”

“Valentine’s Day is second worst,” Edward Hwang said.  “First worst is Mother’s Day. If you’ve got more than one Valentine to give something to, then consider yourself a pretty lucky man. But how many moms do you know? Especially when you get your family together. you’ve got aunties, grandmas, your own ma … ”

On his own relationship with his mom (who is also his boss), Edward remarked, “It’s great. Since she’s family, she knows she can rely on me … Basically, I’m nobody’s bitch, except hers. She’s my mom, and she’s my boss. What am I gonna say.” When asked whether Valentine’s Day was the ultimate stress test on their working relationship, what with all the traffic, Edward said, “Not really. It’s all in the car ride home.”

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