Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles has been quieter than usual since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, but Amorette Brooms' Queen Boutique, a tiny storefront west of La Brea Avenue, has been busy.
The self-proclaimed "Mid-Wilshire girl" grew up in the neighborhood and has sold fashion accessories at her boutique for more than a decade.
But when the safer-at-home order was issued in March, Brooms was forced to pack up her accessories, close her store and try to figure out how to stay afloat.
Eight weeks later, when Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that flower wholesalers could reopen, the mother of two young boys decided to host a flower pop-up in honour of Mother's Day.
"I spent US$500 (RM2,095) on flowers and made 36 bouquets," she said.
She sold the flowers curbside and asked customers to wear face masks and practice social distancing. She also provided hand sanitiser and processed payments on Venmo, Cash App and Square.
Her strategy worked. "I charged US$25 (RM105) for each bouquet, and I made US$1,000 (RM4,200)," she said with a laugh.
Loaded with her profits, Brooms returned to the wholesale Flower Market in downtown Los Angeles and purchased a carload of houseplants. At her next pop-up, they sold out in 45 minutes due to her savvy social media skills, the recent emphasis on Black-owned businesses and the popularity of houseplants with millennials. (Brooms said she gets about 75% of her buyers from Instagram, where she posts plant photos and sale updates.)
On Father's Day, she offered a selection of houseplants, cactuses and succulents, and original works by Black women artists with similar success.
A few weeks ago, she added ceramic pots to her inventory. Those sold out too. Brooms, 43, now purchases plants every other day.
"We went through about 100 pots at our first sale," she said. "We sold all of the pots and plants on Saturday and had nothing left to sell on Sunday. I had to make a list of the people who arrived after everything had sold so I could give them the first choice at my next sale."
During a recent visit, the 200sq ft (18.5sq m) store was overflowing with popular houseplants, including rubber fig trees, snake plants, Pilea peperomioides, and lush purple-and-green prayer plants.
"Good vibes only," reads a sign placed on her desk. Behind it, another sign reads "Black Owned Businesses". On the opposing wall hang photos of her ancestors: Her great-aunt Naida McCullough; her maternal grandmother, Pauline Stovall ("She and my great-grandfather Dr Leonard Stovall are often called the 'Black pioneers of Los Angeles'," she said); great-aunt Lottie Charbonnet; and her paternal grandmother.
"We are adding more ancestors to the wall to watch over and protect the store, including my father, Thurman Brooms, who was killed when I was 2," she explained. "He was also an entrepreneur and had stores, and from what I hear, I inherited my hustle from him."
Clad in a colourful face mask made from a bold African print, Brooms misted philodendrons while offering advice to customers who perused the spider plants, succulents and pothos she has hung from clothing racks on the sidewalk.
Her success has allowed her to hire an assistant, and she hopes to eventually purchase a truck for deliveries and pop-ups.
There were times, though, when she worried Queen would not survive. "I fought my way out of it," Brooms said.
"The plants have changed our vibration," Brooms said. "I've been able to survive because I have low overhead. This pivot has been so good for me and my comfort zone. It has helped me realize what I can do."
Eventually, she thinks she may pivot back to fashion, but for now plants have provided her with a way to survive the pandemic.
Her dream, she said, is to travel the world and buy beautiful, sustainable goods. "I have always thought of myself as a retail therapist," she said. "I want to bring good energy and do something positive for the community." – Tribune News Service/Los Angeles Times/Lisa Boone