Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase just gave local florists an early Mother’s Day present.

Mase’s revised stay-at-home order, released Friday, allows flower shops to begin selling curbside while continuing to prevent customers from going inside. It was welcome news for an industry hit hard by coronavirus-triggered economic contraction.

“I definitely think it will help us, and the floral community in general,” said Lisa Farias, owner of Grohe’s Florists, now in its 118th year in Santa Rosa. “And an extension of that would be local growers. It opens up so much more employment. For the future, when we have weddings and other events, growers will have the infrastructure in place.”

Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt had advocated for the change, insisting florists can ply their trade safely.

“Honestly, most of their orders are via telephone or the internet, then delivering to a doorstep,” Rabbitt said. “You can do a flower arrangement and not see another human being. And that is as safe as you can get. I’m really happy it was relaxed.”

The timing is apt. This is the most wonderful time of the year for florists. Not even Valentine’s Day can compete with Mother’s Day as a flower-industry money generator.

This year, May 10 might be especially sentimental.

“Early orders are looking a little better than even last year,” said Otnit Barajas, whose mother, Bertha, owns Bevess Floral & Events in Santa Rosa. “It might have to do with people having an emotional attachment to this whole thing. They want their family to feel something nice, which is why we’re here.”

“This whole thing,” of course, is the pandemic and the stay-at-home order it necessitated. In a time of social distancing, when hugs are out of the question, perhaps a bouquet is the next best gesture of affection.

But neither the relaxed guidelines, nor the rosy projections for Mother’s Day 2020, have totally eased the minds of Sonoma County’s florists. The economic shutdown has been devastating for them as potential customers prioritize food, rent, movie streaming — practically everything — over a vase of lilies. Bertha Barajas, whose Montgomery Drive business has been relegated to online orders and doorstep deliveries lately, estimates her revenue in mid-April was 5 percent of what it was in early March.

Ann Quinn, executive vice president of the California State Floral Association, noted the federal government identified agriculture as one of 16 critical infrastructure sectors, and that cut flowers are considered part of that sector. But it was only growers that had been deemed essential. The guidelines offered no protections for shippers and retailers

Before Mase updated the county order, florists were shut off from in-person transactions. In effect, family-run establishments such as Bevess (which is basically Bertha Barajas and her two children) were left to compete with delivery giants like FTD and for online orders.

The internet isn’t uncharted territory even for the smallest floral shops, but counter service has always been a big chunk of the trade.“Older customers who do not have a computer, or who don’t feel as comfortable using […]