By Edna Caroline Byenkya 
BELLEVILLE – Flower shops in Belleville are among the businesses that have adapted to new ways of providing their services amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have been in business for the last 25 years and along the way we decided to embrace an online presence which started before the pandemic hit,” said Natalie Ackerman, a floral designer at Live Love & Laugh Flowers, Antiques and Gifts . The shop is at 222 Bell Blvd.
“Business has been pretty easy because we established an online platform and we have been able to roll with the punches of COVID-19 fairly easily because of this,” she said.
Some flower shops have had a harder time remaining open. Mary Hume, the manager and owner of Avondale Flowers and Gifts  at 443 Dundas St. W., said that there has been a decrease in sales since the pandemic hit.
“Business dropped significantly because of COVID-19. We had to shut down our business. We weren’t allowed to have any walk-ins, which affected our business greatly. We did curbside pickups and deliveries for the two months that we have been in lockdown,” she said.
“Hopefully business will pick up now that we have been allowed to open up again.”
In April, the federal government introduced a $73 billion wage subsidy program to help businesses that have seen a drop in revenue because of COVID-19.  This program was designed to keep employees on company payrolls. Businesses like Live Love & Laugh have been beneficiaries.
“We have managed to get some benefits from the government to keep our workers employed,” Ackerman said. “We haven’t laid off anyone. The only people who left were those who felt like they would have health concerns because of COVID-19, and now that the situation is getting a little bit better some of them are starting to come back.”
There are some Belleville businesses that have had to shut down completely because of the impact of COVID-19 on shopping habits.
“I am really sad for people who haven’t been able to recover from this crisis,” Ackerman said. “We have really been lucky. One of the major challenges we had was at the beginning of the lockdown when most people thought we were closed for business, but through word of mouth we were able to get the word out about being open.”
Michelle Pappas, a floral designer at Quinte Floral Design  at 205 North Front St., business has been slow but steady since the pandemic hit.
“We had a busy Mother’s Day and compared to last year’s sales, our sales were about the same this year … even during this crisis,” Pappas told QNet News.
Some flower shops in Belleville have been open for phone orders, website orders, deliveries and curbside pickups while others have been able to open their doors to a limited number of people.
“Our business is open for walk-ins (and) deliveries and we can arrange for curbside pick ups if someone feels uncomfortable coming into the shop with the situation going on,” Pappas said. “Our walk-ins are limited to a few people at a time so that we can make sure social distancing happens.”
At Live Love & Laugh, “we have not yet started letting people into the store because we are trying to set up the place to follow health regulations and ensure social distancing,” Ackerman said. “Our garden centre is open to the public, but people are still encouraged to maintain social distancing.”
The pandemic has not only taken a toll on business; it has affected people’s mental health and created stress, anxiety and uncertainty. Flower shops are among the businesses that help to bring some joy to people’s lives.
“I am so grateful to be working in a business that allows me to put a smile on someone’s face in this difficult time,” Ackerman said.
“I am so surprised at how positive our business has been since the pandemic hit. People still come in to buy flowers and gifts to be able to make someone’s day just a little bit brighter.”
“People are also buying more flowers and sending to nursing homes and hospitals because they haven’t been able to go in to see their loved ones,” she said.