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Blooming legacy: The timeless charm of LIC’s iconic fLorEsta

Photo by Shane O’Brien

July 8, 2024 By Shane O’Brien

When Juan Carlos Bermudez immigrated to the United States from Colombia 20 years ago, he had no dreams of following in his family’s footsteps and pursuing a career in floral design.

And yet, Bermudez, who came to the US to work in a marketing firm, now owns and founded the hugely successful fLorEsta, a unique flower store situated at 51-02 Vernon Blvd. that has delighted the Long Island City community for the past 14 years.

After six years working in marketing in New York, Bermudez began selling his family’s flowers in the States, but did not fancy himself as an early riser and thus sought to educate himself in floral design.
He subsequently enrolled in FlowerSchool New York, where he enjoyed a distinct advantage over his peers because, thanks to his upbringing in Colombia, he could readily identify many different varieties of flowers.

Photo by Shane O’Brien

Bermudez, who has lived in Queens ever since he moved to the States, excelled at floral design and saw an opening in the market in Long Island City.

Anticipating a huge population boom near the waterfront, he began selling flowers on Vernon Boulevard around 15 years ago to gauge his product’s popularity.

Within a year, he had opened fLorEsta, a bespoke flower store that he operated entirely by himself.
“I just had a vision of what was coming,” Bermudez said. “Nothing like this was around. I was the first business on this block. Everything was houses and empty stores, empty buildings. I anticipated the boom.”

Today, he employs 15 people, which rises to 30 when fLorEsta is approached for bigger events.
The store’s name is a triple-entendre. In Spanish, a Floresta is an area of land surrounded by trees and flowers, while it also combines the Spanish word for “flower” (flor) and the Spanish phrase for “are here” (esta) to provide the name “flowers are here.”

Photo by Shane O’Brien

Separately, Bermudez said fLorEsta is often mispronounced by non-Spanish speakers as “florista” – the Spanish word for florist.

He believes his store’s features, including allowing his customers to set the price for bouquets, set it apart from other florists in the city.

Rather than offering a variety of pre-selected arrangements, Bermudez allows customers to choose a color palette and how much they would like to spend, starting at a minimum of $40.

On this particular occasion, Bermudez is preparing a purple, pink and white arrangement worth $150 and has selected a variety of flowers, including Ocean Song Roses, Peonies, Silver Dollar Eucalyptus and Astrantias.

“It’s not like a typical flower shop,” Bermudez said. “We don’t put our hands in the pockets of the customers. We let them decide how much they want to pay.”

Photo by Shane O’Brien

Customers can also decide whether they want to receive the arrangement in a vase or not, with those who opt against a vase receiving a larger bouquet of flowers.

For those who opt against a vase, Bermudez has devised a technique to store water at the bottom of the plastic packaging, ensuring that the bouquet will remain fresh for hours after it was purchased. “You could go to a bar for a few hours, and the flowers will still be healthy,” Bermudez said.

The packaging can also be constantly refilled with water and act as a temporary vase, Bermudez said, adding that such methods can help reduce the number of unnecessary vases sold in flower shops and help protect the environment.

Bermudez admits that he has been heavily influenced by French flower shops and revealed that he spent a significant amount of time traveling around France and observing different styles and techniques that he could implement in his store.

He describes fLorEsta as “chaotic” and says the store is a collection of ideas collected from different flower shops all over France.

“It’s chaotic looking. That’s a good French design, but it’s unique compared to the flower shops in New York City. Everything is so neat; everything is in place.”

“What I have created here is a wild garden inside of fLorEsta.”

Some of the French styles that Bermudez has implemented in his store include iron tables, a chandelier filled with plants and a French-style cabinet.

Photo by Shane O’Brien

Around half of the flowers he sells are from his native Colombia, with the other half coming from all over the world, including Japan, New Zealand and the Netherlands.

He said he aims to sell New York-grown flowers whenever they are in season to support local growers and keep prices down for customers. He focuses on Peonies from Upstate New York and Cherry Blossoms.

As a proud Queens resident, Bermudez has also strived to give back to the community in whatever way he can.

Photo by Shane O’Brien

He regularly donates flowers to local schools for events such as graduations and said he donates “used” flowers to local nursing homes and non-profits after they have been returned from big events, such as weddings and religious celebrations.

“I like to work with the community because if you make the community strong, then everybody will be stronger,” Bermudez said.

He is also an advocate for local businesses and has called on people to spend money in the area where they live.

Bermudez is currently the subject of a documentary for an undisclosed network in his native Colombia, exploring his story of chasing the American dream in New York.

His flower shop is a genuine success story in the heart of Long Island City. It has grown alongside the surrounding neighborhood to meet the community’s needs.

Bermudez has clearly found a niche in the market and has plenty of room for expansion.

 

*This story first published in the July issue of BORO Magazine.

email the author: news@queenspost.com
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