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Flower Power: A Conversation with the Guys at Urban Orchid Who Helped Hingetown Bloom

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Brandon Sitler and Jeff Zelmer, the owners and operators of Urban Orchid in Hingetown, have been arranging floral bouquets like woah during the week leading up to Mother’s Day. It’s the busiest holiday of the year for this chic flower shop on the near west side, where Sitler and Zelmer have been basically the only game in town since they opened here in August, 2012. Scene stopped by on Mother’s Day to see some of the gorgeous bouquets and to talk about their business, about Hingetown, and about the way people in Cleveland buy flowers. We managed to squeeze in a conversation while people streamed in to pick up roses and peonies for lucky mothers across the city.

Sam Allard: Seems like you’re pretty busy.

Brandon Sitler: Yeah, business has been great. Mother’s Day is the busiest holiday for us.

Bigger than Valentine’s Day?

BS: Valentine’s Day would be our second-biggest. And then probably Christmas. Then maybe Easter, I guess? Most of our work is wedding work. We did four weddings this week in addition to all our Mother’s Day orders.

And a funeral?

BS: No funeral, but everyone keeps asking us. Four weddings...and we missed out on the funeral. It was almost my funeral.

Before you guys showed up, I didn’t know where to get flowers around here, in a pinch.

BS: There’s the West Side Market, which has three vendors who sell flowers there.

Is there a famous or especially popular local bloom?

BS: For the Cleveland area? No. Not really. Ohio used to be the carnation capital.

Jeff Zelmer: Alliance, Ohio.

BS: But I don’t think there’s many farms left that actually grow carnations. But our local wholesaler, he grows all our orchids for us. They’re so beautiful. We’re known for orchids, it’s in our name, so we use a lot of orchids in our arrangements. Our most popular is what, probably hydrangeas?

JZ: I’d say hydrangeas and peonies are the most popular for Mother’s Day.

So all these have been pre-ordered? (Gestures to bouquets).

BS: Yeah, we’re more of a high-end specialty boutique. You can’t come in and just pick a mother’s day arrangement. We create every arrangement based on what you’re looking for: your mom’s colors that she loves, a certain design style. We specialize in contemporary arrangements, but we do all different styles. Europeans garden style, rustic, wildflower. Anything really.

Do people actually have specific ideas when they come in? Or is it more they just name a price and you cook something up?

BS: With the guys yeah. Guys are like, ‘Can you please make something for me for $30 in five minutes?’ Girls are like ‘My mom only likes fuchsia peonies and light pink this or that.”

I assume the Hingetown development has been pretty exciting for you guys.

JZ: We’ve gotten a lot more walk-in traffic since the neighborhood started to develop. There are a lot of people who come in now and might just buy a bouquet to put in their house, or a greeting card or one of the gift items that we have. But when they do that, then they become aware of us and are much more likely to come back to us if they’re planning a baby shower or bridal shower or birthday party or something.

I heard somewhere that a ton of flowers sold in the U.S. are grown in Colombia.

BS: Well yeah. A lot of our flowers here come from California though. A lot of roses come from Colombia, but like snapdragons and peonies and hydrangeas: They’re all coming from California.

JZ: What happens is growers sell to distributors who in turn distribute to wholesalers that are located throughout the country. And we buy from wholesalers. We also buy direct from some growers.

BS: We really try to keep it as local as possible, but it’s really hard in Ohio. And a lot of the stuff is greenhouse grown, so it’s easier to cultivate. Our snowdrops are locally grown. Our acacias are locally grown. All of our orchid plants are from an orchid wholesaler in the region.

Any advice for when people should buy flowers?

JZ: They should get them weekly! We actually do have customers who buy flowers weekly, just for themselves. They just like the idea of seeing fresh-cut flower arrangements in their house. We have a lot of customers who buy the typical birthday, anniversary, thank you.

BS: Especially being so close to downtown, we get a lot of businesses who want thank-you arrangements.

JZ: Lawyers get a lot of flowers, which surprises me.

BS: They make people money. We also do a lot of flower work for celebrities when they come into town. We did flowers for Scarlett Johannson, all the people that were in the Avengers, Katherine Heigl, Tom Cruise’s ex-wife.

JZ: That nerdy chick from the Big Bang Theory.

BS: Mayim Bialik. That woman that was what’s-her-name’s daughter, from the Gilmore Girls? Rory Gilmore… Alexis Bledel.

How do they hear about you?

I think a lot of it’s through Yelp. But we’re really active on social media. I Instagram pictures of flower arrangements regularly. I’m on Facebook. I’m on Twitter. We really don’t do any paid advertising. It’s all mainly grassroots and word of mouth.

Do either of you have a favorite flower?

JZ: Mine would be an orchid.

BS: I’d probably say an oncidium orchid would be my favorite.

No way I can spell that.

BS: O-n-c-i-d-i-u-m. The stem’s really long. It has little yellow orchids all the way up the stem. It’s very bright and happy, and it’s what our logo is designed after.

I love the logo, love the sign. You were one of the first businesses in Hingetown, right?

JZ: Yeah, we were in a smaller location on Bridge and we needed more space. We knew the owner who was buying this building -- Graham Veysey -- and we came and looked at it. And we thought it was very raw, but we’ve done a lot to it. It just made a lot of sense. So we did it! And since then the neighborhood has really taken off. Our only concern was that we’d have less foot traffic as we were moving from Bridge and West 25th, but honestly, now, I’d say we have just as much if not more, just because of everything that’s popped up around here.

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