Reece Nakamoto Farinas, whose family owns Beretania Florist, had an unpleasant surprise Sept. 15 when his mother got a call from the city’s COVID-19 hotline ordering their business to close immediately because they were violating Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s Sept. 8, amended Emergency Order 2020-26, which expired Wednesday night.
“It definitely was a shock, because we had read the county’s mandate very carefully and determined we were allowed to operate as a funeral-related service, providing flowers to an essential business,” Farinas said in a phone interview Tuesday.
“Our store was closed, and we were only taking phone and internet orders for delivering or shipping flowers to funerals locally and on the mainland.”
Farinas called the hotline back and spoke with the same caller, “and she told me ‘essential’ didn’t mean flowers.”
“It’s been really confusing, overall, for small businesses in Honolulu,” Farinas said, “and while supermarkets need to be open so we can get food, for us to see Target, Safeway or Sam’s Club be able to continue to sell flowers we’re not able to sell — and we were also forbidden to sell flowers wholesale to them — it’s a big injustice to me.”
Alexander Zannes, spokesman for the mayor’s office, said the city had tried to be clear.
“The City’s Call Center responded to several calls and questions from Beretania Florist,” Zannes said in an email. “It was explained many times to this florist that the ‘shipping business’ and ‘Essential Business’ in (Order 2020-26) Section II.F.10, applies to businesses whose primary business is providing shipping and mailing services such as FedEx and UPS,” not to retailers shipping their own products.
While businesses that provide funeral services are considered essential, Zannes said, “the flowers for funeral wreaths have not been deemed essential for purposes of providing the essential funeral services.”
Likewise, providing flowers, “a non-essential product,” at wholesale to essential businesses like supermarkets “was not deemed essential to support an essential business.”
But city officials weren’t the ones who had to say no to grieving callers seeking solace in fresh flowers.
“It was really sad for a lot of people when they heard they couldn’t get floral arrangements from us for their mom’s or dad’s funeral,” Farinas said.
Beretania Florist had ceased all operations when Caldwell announced Tuesday that retailers will be able to reopen today at 50% capacity.
“We’re really excited to open up,” Farinas said, but noted the company would not be opening its physical store out of concerns for the health of its staff and clientele.
He added the business has been able to keep all its staff on payroll with funds from the federal government’s Payroll Protection Plan, and is waiting to hear back regarding its application for the city’s first round of CARES Act small business grants.
“We’re really appreciative to the city for making those things available,” Farinas said.
Going forward, he said, he hoped city officials would provide more clarity about ongoing rules for business reopenings and closures under Caldwell’s newly announced four-tier system.
“I hope that, for all the retail businesses, it gets mapped out for us so we have an idea how to operate,” Farinas said as he and his grandmother worked in the shop Tuesday afternoon, preparing buckets to hold fresh flowers for today’s reopening.
“I hope that people in the community really stand behind the small businesses now, because everybody’s on their last lifeline,” he said.
His great-grandparents started the business in 1937, “and we’re hoping that we can make it through this,” Farinas said.