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‘Each Bouquet Tells a Story,’ a Day in the Life of a Florist in L.A.’s Disappearing Flower District

1:02 PM PST on February 13, 2020

    [dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he concept of a specific commerce “district” has been quickly fading from the landscape of the North American city. For many years, a specialized zone that a consumer can go to get everything from fresh meat to a brand new suit was an essential component of the city.

    Gentrification and development have quickly erased and displaced working and middle-class businesses that thrive in a specialized district producing specific products, They have been replaced by corporations and homogenized business that now caters to the upper middle class demographic that is moving into the central city.

    In Downtown L.A., East of Los Angeles Street, the essence of a district is still physically and spiritually profound. Wholesale items for the consumer and independent business spread in every direction from garments to vape cartridges to pinatas and perfumes. These independent businesses hold space with unique storefronts absent of bourgeoisie styles that dominate the new storefronts that have exploded on Broadway, Main, and Spring Streets. Nonetheless, Angelenos from all over L.A. arrive in the districts to support the independent, working and middle-class businesses in this unique zone.

    The Flower District runs predominantly along San Pedro between 7th and 8th, west towards Wall and San Julian street. By 8th and San Pedro, storefronts surround the neighborhood. Within these storefronts are a vibrant display of roses and flowers, intricately arranged. Each bouquet tells a story; a family celebration, a wedding, a passing, a homage to a saint and so much more. Every day, thousands of flowers are beautifully arranged and orchestrated to symbolize the flow of life and all of the emotions that come with it.

    The Designer or Arranger of flowers are artists. The flowers are their paintings; their masterpieces. They facilitate the feeling of an emotion for each customer. Each arrangement brings their own story with them in the ornate layering of plants in full bloom. The life of the Flower Designer is just as relevant and important to making the Flower District a facet of what makes our city so special and unique.

    Elvis leaves work with his hands stained blue and gray from arranging flowers all day. After long days, he hops on the number 53 bus down Central to learn English at night. After class, he takes another bus to Mid-City to sleep before another long day awaits him. Sometimes he gets up at two or three in the morning to catch a bus to the flower district to start working. He’s proud to show me his creations on his phone, full of intricate styles and designs. He’s from Santo Tomas, La Union in Guatemala. He has worked in the Flower District for two years. He started there by chance,  jumping in with no experience but has mastered the art in a short time. Just like his life in Los Angeles; he is going with the flow, not sure how long he will be working in the Flower District but embracing everything that comes with it in the moment.

    His boss and owner is Rogelio from Oaxaca. Rogelio is young, calm, and soft-spoken. When he first arrived in the U.S., he went up to Fresno to work on the farms, harvesting flowers. He didn’t like the work and came back to L.A. His brother had his own shop and Rogelio decided he liked the opportunity to work in the flower district more than the long, hot hours in Fresno. He has owned his shop for nine months. He enjoys the constant flow of customers that come with requests for arrangements dedicated for momentous personal occasions.

    Across the street is Maria from Hidalgo, Mexico. I asked her what her title is at the Flower District and she referred to herself as a saleswoman. She started working there when she was 15, she is now 24. Sometimes she works seven days straight to support her two children and family. She says most roses come from Ecuador, Colombia, and Mexico, and the best quality is from Ecuador. Like Rogelio, her favorite part of the job is the human connection and what an arrangement of flowers can mean to someone.

    As Valentine's Day approaches, the shops by 8th and San Pedro are bustling. Every shop has arrangements to display and orders to fulfill. As I stand and talk to Rogelio and Elvis, a full-scale police chase blasts east on 8th Street. Many of the workers take a pause to check out the chase and all the police cars zooming by. Unfazed, Rogelio talks about how the Flower District is an important part of the cultural fabric of Los Angeles, and how people like Rogelio and Elvis are helping facilitate a specific moment or event to Angelinos all over the city.

    Rogelio agreed, and pointed to my Kobe shirt and said “We are L.A. like Kobe”.

    Video by Felipe Haymes

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