Flowers in the City: OTR's Gia and the Blooms


“Florals? For spring? Groundbreaking.”

Meryl Streep uttered this famous line in “The Devil Wears Prada,” dumbfounded by her employees’ and their inability to innovate for the spring fashion season. Brutal, but pointed; throw a stone in any direction between April and June and you’ll likely find spring’s most ubiquitous motif in its many forms, not least of which its truest one. Stroll through Ault Park or spend your day at the Cincinnati Zoo, and you will find company in the cascading blooms that border the sidewalks and trails. April showers, indeed.

Though it makes one wonder, for people drawn to a more urban setting - think the downtown area and Over-the-Rhine - is the floral sweep as pollinated as those living in more suburban or rural settings? According to one OTR flower shop, it may be more so.

Gia and the Blooms, on 13th Street next to Brown Bear Bakery, opened its doors in May of 2016. “I used to design event flowers out of my house but quickly ran out of space,” says owner and floral desiger Yuliya Bui. She decided on OTR due to its proximity to her home, but quickly fell in love with the small business community. “The sense of community in OTR is incredible. The neighborhood's residents do make a decision to shop small every day in order to support and sustain the unique infrastructure of small businesses that has grown in OTR over the years. A lot of our regular customers are our neighbors.”

It’s a mutual admiration felt by one of Gia and the Blooms' floral designers, Kalee Taquino. “I’ve lived in Cincinnati for about 4 years and I’m lucky to say I’ve spent the majority of that time working in OTR,” she says. “One of my first jobs here operated out of Findlay Market, and to be able to experience the sort of community within that place and then realizing that other OTR businesses share that same sort of feel has been really cool to be a part of.”

Taylor Davis“I love the diversity in the neighborhood,” adds floral designer Taylor Davis. “It’s really shown me that you never know who is interested in florals. We have customers ranging from their teens to elderly men and women. I love that there is no rhyme or reason to our customers; anyone is welcome.”

“I really feel like a plant and flower shop right in the middle of an urban setting makes the most sense,” adds Taquino. “It’s a sort of retreat from the concrete jungle. A breath of fresh air.”

Gia and the Blooms doesn't do much in the way of traditional marketing; in fact, most of their business comes from word of mouth. "We have a lot of walk-ins and a lot of regulars," says Taquino. That culture of happening upon the shop and its offerings extends beyond its inventory. "I started working here within a few months of the shop opening. I just happened to meet Yuliya at a weekly market at Fountain Square, and she hired me on the spot."

They work with local farmers to keep fresh, seasonal and locally grown flowers year-round—meaning when we’re seeking some life in the middle of our long Cincinnati winters, Gia is able to provide that.

It has that small-town feel to it, all the way down to the size of its staff, with only two full time floral designers in Taquino and Davis, as well as one part time employee and owner Yuliya. “I knew they were hiring prior to asking because a mutual friend of ours was considering working here,” says Davis. “After she chose not pursue the opportunity, I stepped in and asked if they were hiring. The rest is history!”

Walking into Gia and the Blooms, there isn’t a spot untouched by flowers or greenery. A sign reads “Plant Friends” above a tray of succulents; a crate of roses in various hues begs for attention; and a Victorian-style loveseat, in its deep shade of purple (Pantone’s 2018 Color of the Year), invites customers to sit and simply look around. They also sell greeting cards, wrapping paper, pottery and an assortment of candles. A customer, buying a ficus, laments her boyfriend won’t be as excited about the purchase as she is. “He told me we need to stop buying decorations for the house,” she laughs.

She isn’t alone, as plants being incorporated into interior design is very much on trend. “Instagram has played a big part in that,” says Taquino. “It’s really exposed people to unique or hard-to-find plants, and people posting pictures of them inside their homes as part of their decorating … it’s exposed people to different types of nature.”

Groceries and mass-merchants have hopped on the plant wagon, too. Kroger has long offered quick and easy floral shopping, and stores like Target are incorporating more faux plants into their Home Décor inventory. With the grab-and-go style of Kroger’s floral department and the no maintenance offerings of an aesthetically pleasing fake potted plant, how does a small neighborhood floral shop compete? For the girls at Gia and the Blooms, it’s no sweat off their back. “Our inventory is pretty different from theirs,” says Bui of corporate floral options. “We offer more customization and delivery within 20 miles of our location. Our team of very talented designers create gorgeous custom arrangements that you just cannot get from a chain store.”

Moreover, shops like Gia are able to connect with their customers by offering them what they didn’t know they wanted. “Sometimes customers come in looking for the traditional dozen red roses with some baby’s breath, and often I think they’re just seeking what they know,” says Taquino. “There’s definitely nothing wrong with more traditional floral arrangements, but it’s fun to be able to show people that there are other options. There are so many beautiful flowers and greenery, and combining them creates bouquets with wonderful texture and arrangements, with more visual interest than what a dozen roses may offer.”

The future for Gia and the Blooms means reaching farther into the suburbs. “We’ve grown beyond serving just our neighborhood in the past couple of years,” says Bui. “We’ve really been acquiring new customers outside the downtown area and expanding our business to the suburbs.”

But it’s a challenge they face head on, as each of them has such a passion for the work. “I’ve always had tons of plants in my house, and it’s been my own little hobby for some time now,” says Davis. “I love being creative and working with my hands, so it didn’t take long for me to find the beauty in floral arranging.”

Taquino agrees. “I love the shop, I love the work we do. Everything about Gia and the Blooms is about right place, right time. I feel really lucky to work here.”
 

Read more articles by Michael Woodson.

Michael Woodson lives in St. Bernard with his husband and their dog. He is the associate editor of Artists Magazine and a freelance photographer. See more of his work at www.michaelwoodson.com.
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