According to the new rules announced on Friday by the national security council for the first stage of the country’s exit from confinement, ordinary retail outlets will re-open on 11 May.
Most retailers will be delighted by the news. For florists, however, the release from confinement comes a day too late. The previous day, Sunday May 10, is Mothers’ Day, one of the biggest days of the year for the flower trade.
Two days account for 30% of florists’ annual sales: 1 May and Mothers’ Day. Luckily, the other main day of the year for the trade, Valentine’s Day on February 14, escaped a month before the lockdown started.
Mayday is lost for sure, and Mother’s Day is destined to go the same way. “The earnings generated in this period help finance stock purchases in the second half of the year,” explained SNI, the union that represents the self-employed.
“Don’t forget that florists had to throw away their stocks of fresh flowers before the confinement, which meant a major loss of earnings for which they still haven’t been compensated.”
In fact, florists may be the only sector of the retail industry which deals in perishable goods but was not allowed to open, in contrast to food shops of all sorts. Even restaurants were allowed to sell meals for delivery or pick-up.
Now flower shops are also faced with the relaxation of the closure order for garden centres, which opened their doors last weekend. And supermarkets have been allowed to sell bunches of flowers all along.
But perhaps Flemish minister-president Jan Jambon has the solution: postpone Mothers’ Day for a week until May 17. By then, he told VTM news, flower shops will be allowed to be open, and dutiful offspring can buy flowers for Mother – although they still won’t be able to hand them over unless they all live under the same roof.
“You could deliver the flowers to the door, but not yet go inside” he suggested. “Social contacts are at the top of the agenda for being allowed from Monday May 18.”
An idea that is “magisterial in its simplicity,” according to Unizo, the association for small business owners in Flanders.
“This solves many problems,” said Danny Van Assche, managing director of Unizo. “We examined whether florists could make home deliveries, but the demand is actually too great for that. Florists also couldn’t open earlier as an exception. That was not allowed, and it is also not desirable given the advice of the virologists and the fact that it would create unfair competition. Fathers, sons and daughters don’t necessarily only buy flowers to celebrate their mother.”
Florists themselves, however, are not excited by Jambon’s proposal. Many orders are still coming in online for delivery to the nation’s mothers, albeit nowhere close to the normal sales for the day. Pushing Mothers’ Day forward a week might escape the attention of much of the public, and deliveries to the doorstep is not a solution for everyone.
One section of the population, meanwhile, has no trouble at all with the lockdown restrictions being lifted a day after May 10. In Antwerp, as every year, Mothers’ Day is celebrated on August 15.