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Award-winning floral shop in New West closing down after a decade

Buy Local or Bye Bye Local: New Westminster floral designer reminds residents of importance of supporting local businesses.

Robin Schafer has been part of many New West residents’ special occasions – from births to weddings to celebrations of life.

But after a decade of operating Bunches and Blooms Floral in River Market, the New West resident recently announced he’s closing shop in March. Schafer had planned to retire in 2025 but has decided to push up his closing date to March 15, 2024.

“Lacklustre post-COVID recovery, inflation, increased overhead, and enduring nine years of adjacent construction have all played their part,” he said in a post on social media. “Thank you for 10 years of support and please remember: Buy Local or Bye Bye Local.”

After three decades of working in retail and floral design, Schafer opened Bunches and Blooms Floral in River Market in late 2013/early 2014.

Bunches and Blooms started off in a small space originally created as a test kitchen, moved to a space near the food hall in April of 2014 and relocated to a larger space that’s been home for the past nine years.

When the floral shop opened, it was among River Market’s few retail stores, as the market was then focused on providing food offerings.

“The market has been so good to me allowing me to open in those baby steps,” Schafer said. “They've supported me every step of the way. They've been wonderful.”

Schafer “was out of flowers” for a few years, but believes Valentine’s Day 2024 was his 40th Valentine’s Day in the floral industry.

On the morning of Feb. 15, he took to social media to announce he would be closing Bunches and Blooms in March.

Various factors

While the pandemic “put everything upside down” in 2020, it also created a brisk business for Bunches and Blooms.

“The first year, when everyone was shut down, I stayed open. … We were never busier,” Schafer said. “Nobody could see anybody. They couldn't travel. So flowers were the answer. So we did very well. We were shocked.”

Business continued to flourish when “things started opening up” because people had begun hosting celebrations of life and other events that had been postponed because of COVID restrictions.

“There was this kind of excitement or what have you, thinking it's over, and we're all going to be OK now. And you know, expecting happy days are here again,” Schafer said. “But it didn't happen because inflation happened.”

Schafer said the price of flowers hasn’t gone up dramatically, but other costs of doing business have risen. The wholesale price of a vase is now what Schafer had been retailing it for pre-pandemic.

Construction on the waterfront has also deterred some customers, who either didn’t like the pile driving that was happening or miss the access to ample parking, Schafer said.

Schafer said he had high hopes that residents in new highrises built in the neighbourhood would be a boom for his business, but that hasn’t happened.

“What happened is everybody came in to see us once to buy a plant or two for the house and then we never really seen them again,” he said.

Schafer said inflation and rising housing costs mean people have had to tighten their wallets – whether they’re seniors on pensions or younger folks moving into the city.

Some folks, added Schafer, only buy flowers for special occasions like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Christmas – when increased prices from wholesalers’ results in higher retail prices.

“So they only see when things are higher,” Shafer said. “It's really unfortunate because they would get better value if they'd come day to day.”

Adding to that, Bunches and Blooms has always been extremely busy on special holidays, something that requires the small business to turn customers away – customers who then they don't come back.

“Everyone's strapped, and discretionary income has dropped significantly. They just don't have it anymore. I understand,” Schafer said. “And they have such a small amount now that they really need to pick and choose what they pay. And unfortunately, mine isn't a top priority.”

Sad farewell

Lois Brassart, a longtime customer at Bunches and Blooms, saw Schafer’s social media post and immediately dropped by the shop to say hello. She and her late husband Bruce supported the shop since its opening in River Market.

“Now, where am I going to go?” she said when stopping by the shop on Feb. 15.

Brassart said Schafer has been “so kind” and has always created beautiful floral arrangements. She told the Record about an arrangement she had received after her husband’s death.

“They were all my perfect flowers,” she said. “And then you (Schafer) signed it. And do you know what they said: to Lois and Bruce. Who else would do that? Who else would say that? Bruce was long gone. But he remembered.”

Schafer sends out a “big thank you” to the New West community, that’s embraced him for so many years.

On several occasions, Bunches and Blooms has been named as Best Floral in New Westminster in the Record's Readers’ Choice Awards.

While Schafer’s plan is to keep the shop open until March 15, he’s not sure how long his product will hold out. He expects to cease deliveries after the first week of March.

Bunches and Blooms' closing sale is now underway, with tropical plants, pots and vases now being sold at 20 to 50 per cent off their regular prices.

Shop Local

While visiting Victoria years ago, Schafer saw a sign reading: Buy Local or Bye Bye Local.

“It struck me to the core,” he said. “And I just thought: Wowzers.”

While “everybody’s strapped” financially, Schafer encourages community members to shop local when they’re able.

“If you don't continue to support these people when you can, they're going to be gone. Because everybody's facing this. I really think we might see more of this. I really do,” he said. “But I think we could see less of it if people were to support local a little more.”

Schafer said it’s gotten very easy to shop online, but local businesses need their support.

“I know dollars are stretched, but if they could just make a little bit of an effort to support their local, a little bit more than just clicking,” he said. “One difference with the market down here is there's not a chain in here. Everybody owns the business that they have a passion about. There isn't a person in here who can't tell you about their product with full passion.”