Lee’s Flower and Card Shop Inc. is a family-owned full-service flower shop that has been a staple of historic U Street for over 75 years. The business was founded by William and Winnifred Lee in 1945. Lee’s Flower and Card Shop Inc. is currently owned and operated by sisters Stacie Lee Banks (President & Co-Owner) and Kristie Lee Jones (General Manager & Co-Owner). The sisters are the third generation to run the family business.
Small business owners across the U.S. have gone the extra mile to keep their businesses afloat during Covid-19. For Stacie Lee Banks, it was more like 200 miles.
It was late March and her Lee’s Flower and Card Shop in D.C. had been restricted to only online and phone orders as the coronavirus pandemic forced retail stores to close their doors to customers. In the workroom of the U Street NW floral shop, Stacie and her sister, Kristie Lee, were trading off days, creating arrangements and fulfilling orders alone after having laid off most of their staff.
But with D.C. flower wholesalers also shutting down, the shop was running low on supply. The sisters made a few calls and found one warehouse open. So Stacie was off before dawn — to New Jersey.
“They weren’t delivering, but the warehouse was open until 12 p.m.,” Kristie says of her sister’s drive. “She left D.C. at like 5 in the morning to get there. She was just trying to figure out how to fill the orders.”
With D.C. now in the second phase of its reopening plan, Lee’s Flower and Card Shop has reopened its doors, albeit not as widely as they were before. Customers now place or pick up orders at a makeshift counter just inside the entrance. But the added foot traffic is a boost, an extra bit of breathing room for the sisters working to keep the family legacy going.
Lee’s D.C. storefront was opened in 1945 by Stacie’s and Kristie’s paternal grandparents, William and Winifred Lee. William’s sister had originally owned the business, but when she decided to close down her shop, William and his wife picked it up. In 1968, the pair bought the two-story building that now houses the shop at 11th and U streets NW.
“Luckily, they had the foresight to buy the building,” Kristie says. “The neighborhood is so expensive now, we wouldn’t be able to afford the rent if we were just renting.”
William’s only child, Richard, eventually left his own job to help his parents with the shop and ended up staying for 40 years. Richard, now retired, sold the business to his daughters a decade ago. Stacie worked in the shop her entire adult life. Kristie started her career at a telecom company before returning to the family business around 2002.
Both girls had grown up around the flowers, working the busy holidays like Valentine’s Day, when it was all hands on deck.
“When I was 12 years old, we had a whole section of the shop that was different kinds of cards. I’d be there ringing up customers — that was my little section. I did that all through high school,” Kristie says.
Over the years, she says those cards have become less popular, as competitors like CVS moved in down the street. But individual flower orders and larger group orders for banquets, weddings and funerals have stayed steady. In pre-Covid times, that meant roughly 20 arrangements per day. At the height of the pandemic shutdown this spring, that number dropped by more than half.
A Paycheck Protection Loan from the Small Business Administration and a microgrant from the District helped ease the loss.
“Everybody has started to send emails about, ‘Did you see this grant? Did you see that grant?’” Kristie says. “It gets to be a little overwhelming, but we’re trying to keep up with everything.”
The family was able to hire back many of its laid-off employees. In addition to Kristie, who is vice president, and Stacie, who is president, additional family members in the business include Kristie’s nieces, Lechie Lee (an HR consultant) and Samarah Banks (a floral designer).
The shop also saw a bump in support as a grassroots movement encouraged shopping at Black-owned businesses in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in late May.
“We were really inundated with orders for people who wanted to support our business,” Kristie says.
As part of the Florists’ Transworld Delivery (or FTD) wire service, customers can place orders through Lee’s to be delivered anywhere across the U.S. Those orders are then transferred to a local florist for creation and delivery. But Lee’s receives a small fee. And then there are the customers who go above and beyond.
“One lady just sent a check because she saw our story on the news and she said she just wanted to support,” Kristie says. Lee’s also recently filled an order at nearby apartment building The Clifton for 100 succulent plants, ordered by building management to be delivered to each resident.
The shop has seen a boom in plant orders — succulents, orchids, lilies and pothos — as those spending more time at home look to spruce up their space. The extra time indoors has even led Kristie to start adding flowers to her own home for the first time.
“People are like, ‘I know you have amazing flowers at home all the time,’” Kristie says. “I’m like, ‘Nope.’ But I’m trying to do better because I really appreciate what others see in it now. It’s very rewarding to have living things in your space. They bring joy.”
Lee’s Flower and Card Shop