Crystal Hill, co-owner of the The Fresh Flower & Gift Basket Company, is relying on devoted local customers to keep business booming with Valentine's Day approaching. Photo: Ebonie Walker, Centretown News.

O’Connor Street construction causing floral shop to rethink business strategy

By Ebonie Walker

Valentine’s Day is typically the most lucrative time of the year for Crystal Hill, co-owner of The Fresh Flower & Gift Basket Company on O’Connor Street.

But red lights and road closures are forcing Hill to rethink her business strategy this year, leaving her “very concerned” about her business during the romantic holiday rush.

A downtown stretch of O’Connor — from Laurier Avenue to Somerset Street —  will be under construction and closed to vehicles until March 2.

Like other merchants on that section of O’Connor, Hill is trying to adapt — in her case, by enticing customers with discounts if they order Valentine’s Day flowers ahead of time.

Stephanie Diotte, a structures manager at Bell Canada, said that although the construction might be inconvenient for a little while, it is necessary.

According to Diotte, the telecom utility is updating its underground infrastructure in order to adequately distribute services to different companies and homes in the area.

The work involves accessing Bell’s equipment through manholes along O’Connor Street.

“We’re bringing everything up to code,” she said. “It doesn’t happen often at all and it hasn’t happened in several years. It’s only due to the fact that we phased out our (older) infrastructure and we have to rebuild.”

Hill said she understands the rewiring of downtown Ottawa is important, but fears her store will be affected for much longer than the six weeks that the city is anticipating for the road closure.

“It’s difficult because if getting to our store is not convenient, people are going to remember that and they’re never going to come back,” she said. “I just don’t want our lasting impression to be that it’s a hassle.”

The Fresh Flower & Gift Basket Company opened downtown last October, making the shop relatively new to the area. And while Hill has a few regular clients, she said she relies heavily on walk-in customers, who haven’t been coming in since the road closure.

The florist said the month of January is always slow and construction is just one more hit to her business. Now, it takes her delivery man 45 minutes to get in out of the downtown core, and she said she’s worried that deliveries — especially last-minute Valentine’s Day orders — are going to become an issue

“Valentine’s Day is a man’s holiday, so they’re the ones buying,” she said. “And men are notorious about not planning ahead.”

In an attempt to help ease delivery times and offset expected losses, Hill launched a promotion. Customers who ordered and paid for flowers before Feb. 1 received 20 per cent off the purchase price, and customers who order and pay before Feb. 9 will receive 10 per cent off. However, those discount offers only applied to customers who chose to pick-up flowers in-store.

“Hopefully,” Hill said in late January, “they’ll see (the promo) and help us anticipate what we’re going to have happen. So, we can prepare ahead.”

Hill said she’s also using social media to inform people that she is still open for business and still accessible. She added that once she figures out the best times to go into and out of the city, she plans to phone her customers to inform those who choose to pick up flowers.

Down the street at New Look Eyewear, manager Michael Noguera said he was anticipating a decrease in business because of the construction. But, he added, he’s relying on locals and commuters to make up for the expected lack of walk-in business.

“We currently do have promotions,” he said. “And we do have a lot of civil servants that come into our store . . .  And people who live around the area will walk to come here, they don’t need to drive.”

Hill said her biggest issue is the way that the road closure is being communicated by the city. She said she had no warning about the road closure prior to construction and now the advisories are harmful to her business.

“They’re telling everyone that O’Connor is closed from Laurier to Somerset for six weeks, and to avoid the area. They’re not saying that businesses are still open or that it’s still accessible.”