I am very glad that flower shops exist

The revenue model for a flower shop does not look good on paper. On the supply side, your product is fragile, has a short shelf life, and needs to be refrigerated. On the demand side, the market is highly volatile. Valentine’s Day and prom season are surely a mad dash, and there’s probably a steady stream of summer weddings to prop up the business in the warmer months. But how on earth does a flower shop stay afloat in, say, October? Or January? By the grace of our collective love of beauty, I suppose.

Most small towns have a flower shop. And it’s not some Wal-Mart-type self-checkout soulless conglomerate; it’s a real store run by a real person who knows real things about real flowers. On top of this, a dozen roses in mid-February aside, flowers are cheap.

Historically, men’s suit jackets could be buttoned closed in inclement weather by unfolding the left lapel and spreading it across the chest. As suits evolved, the jacket lost this practical functionality, but retained the buttonhole (or, in French, boutonnière — you can see where this is going). Men took to decorating their now-vestigial suit lapels with flowers, tasking their tailors to stitch a short loop on the backside of the lapel with a stout thread to secure the stem of a flower. Today, that tradition has all but disappeared; most modern suit jackets appear to have a buttonhole, but a close inspection reveals it’s nothing more than a stitched pattern on virgin fabric. For the twin occasions that still call for a boutonnière, we now must resort to safety pins.

But I know a guy. For a cool $500, he’ll hook you up with a custom suit. It’s marvelous in many regards, but none more so than its functional buttonhole and stout threading on the backside of the lapel.

I’m lucky in that most of the events I attend in a suit are for pleasure. As such, I’m quite fond of taking up the mantle to carry on the tradition of the casual boutonnière. I’ll stop in at a local floral shop, humbly ask for one flower, trimmed short. No wire, no wrapping; it fits in right here, you see? Lovely.

Such an indulgence of décor has never cost me more than a few dollars, and the rose or mini-carnation soldiers along, perky as ever, all day. Such a luxury seems outrageously underpriced.

Flowers are almost too perfect. In a 3D-CGI world, a verbatim reproduction of a chrysanthemum or tiger lily would be derided: too beautiful, too perfect, too vibrant and colorful. Plants don’t really look like that. Except they do.

In the spring, while wearing a suit, I may even stop along the sidewalk and pluck a sprig of lavender or wild rye, tucking it snugly into my stout-threaded loop. This, I suppose, is what I’ll resort to if we as a society let our utilitarian desires get the better of us.

No more flower shops. Too wasteful, too impractical, too romantic. Not enough weddings these days, and why bother with funerals? You can’t smell when you’re dead. What about pollen allergies? There goes your underdeveloped teenage brain again, never considering how your actions affect other people. You can rent a plastic boutonnière and matching corsage for your date from the school. Make sure you turn it in to the school library by next Monday, otherwise there’s a late fee.

Not yet, though. The precarious whims of economics keep flower shops afloat for the time being. And I have hope for the future.

In Northfield, Minnesota, home of my alma mater of a mere 2,000 students, the local floral shop sets up a table in the student union every Friday of the school year. For a few dollars, you can craft a bouquet of your choosing, wrap it up in fancy waxed paper, and put it in the mailbox of your friend, roommate, or secret crush.

This is the sort of thing that can only happen at a small school. Our mailboxes were not very big; we used a re-purposed repository of old-fashioned P.O. boxes just barely big enough to fit one 12 oz bottle of beer (the most logical and practical unit of measurement for a college student’s mailbox). Fortunately, these mailboxes do not lock, so the flowers jut out obnoxiously, door ajar, making you wonder just what your alphabetical neighbor has going for him that gets him so many goddamn daisies and orchids week after week.

The saddest and most beautiful sight I have ever seen was the entire mailroom of the student union covered, wall-to-wall, with flowers. Every single mailbox with one carefully wrapped blossom inside. This is what happens when a student dies. A meager reminder to everyone on campus: you are loved, you are beautiful, you are worth keeping around.

This existence — not economically feasible on paper at least, but a worthwhile pursuit nevertheless. This hope, that such folly is worth a try, must be the invisible hand that props up the humble floral shop on the small-town main drag and the big-city boardwalk. The ridiculously jovial black man selling roses to clubgoers downtown at midnight on a Friday, the neglected patch of prairie grass offering a sprig of natural décor for my stout-stitched buttonhole. The hope that even things that are fragile, short-lived, and too perfect to seem real, are real, are beautiful, and are an outrageously underpriced luxury.

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