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Crosscurrents is our award-winning radio news magazine, broadcasting Mondays through Thursdays at 11 a.m. on 91.7 FM. We make joyful, informative stories that engage people across the economic, social, and cultural divides in our community. Listen to full episodes at kalw.org/crosscurrents

Meet The Oakland Florist Keeping Her Community Connected One Arrangement At A Time

Arianna Marbley shops at the San Francisco Flower market.
Photo by Katherine Simpson
Ariana Marbley shops at the San Francisco Flower market.

The pandemic has been hard on small businesses, but in Oakland, a one-woman floral operation is blooming after a year of social distancing. For our latest installment in the @Work series we spoke with the floral designer behind Esscents of Flowers.

Ariana Marbley arrives before 7 am to shop at the San Francisco Flower Market on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week. As she, wanders through flowers, she pulls out her smartphone to calculate how many stems she’ll need for today’s arrangements.

"At 6:30," Marbley says, "and I haven't eaten or had coffee yet. I need the calculator." She stops shopping abruptly to pick up some orchids. A customer had requested them.

"They sent like an email and a note. Like they really enjoy orchids," Marbley says.

Marbley lays out her selections at the flower market.
Photo by Katherine Simpson
Marbley lays out her selections at the flower market.

For Ariana flowers are more than just a way to brighten your home or decorate your event. Flowers are about people. And that’s obvious from how each vendor lights up when she enters their stall.

Just two years ago, Ariana managed a lab at Chevron. But she’d always been drawn to flowers. THEY remind her of growing vegetables in her grandfather's garden.

"The whole experience of creating something that grew from the ground and being able to give that to somebody, and that person...would feel their heart would be filled with joy. And so I was like, 'oh, that's that feeling I want to recreate all the time,'" says Marbley.

Marbley used to buy and rearrange grocery store bouquets when she didn't like the design. So in 2016, she started a flower business on top of her full time job and parenting.

"I would get up super early, when the markets used to open at like two or 3am, go pick those up, come back home, put those in water, try and get maybe two to three more hours of sleep, then get the kids up, get them ready for school, and then I got ready for work, went to work, came back home, picked up the kids," Marbley says. After all that she’d still have to arrange bouquets.

Her business grew as she partnered with local stores to create pop up flower stands. She went full time with flowers in June 2019.

"Then 2020 came and I was like, Oh, so what is going to happen now? What am I going to do? I'm so instantaneously like, panic and fear start to set in because how can I do this? I made this decision," Marbley says, "how am I going to reimagine this business that I left my career for?"

When the commercial flower markets closed during shelter in place, She started working with a local farm and offering home delivery and flower subscriptions.

"What I noticed was that because people weren't spending time with one another, they still wanted to feel a sense of connection with each other. [It] just brought me back to what the business was created," Marbley says," and in the foundation of it, and it's about bringing people together. So it was perfect."

She started getting to know her customers better than she ever had before.

"When I started doing deliveries and starting to deliver to the same people, you grow a relationship," Marbley says, "you're able to connect the flowers with the person. And so it just makes you think about it and also makes you think about like when you're buying flowers that you're buying for." Like the orchids she picked up this morning before heading home to arrange the bouquets.

"There's quite a few now, folks that that purchase from me on a regular and so when I see their name come across, like oh yeah, you know, this person or I'm delivering or we're delivering to this person. Or I know that when I'm at the market, I know that this person likes, you know, this flower. So I'm gonna just throw a little something in there. Just to let them know that you know, I'm, I'm thinking about you because you know, you ordered flowers," Marbley says.

Marbley with her arrangement.
Photo by Katherine Simpson
Marbley with her arrangement.

Despite the pandemic, her business is better than ever. She gets more orders than pre-pandemic and has even brought on a delivery driver.

After a year of uncertainty, she’s just as passionate about the meaning of flowers.

"Just when you think that environment is not nurturing enough or not suitable enough for anything to thrive, you see, the lotus flower that can come up out of like muck and mud and dirt. And you see something so beautiful, that can bloom from that environment," Marbley says, "You just look at, you know, a lot of what we've all been through this past year and half, and it is reminiscent of, you know, this environment that doesn't look, it didn't look good. You know, it wasn't, it wasn't a desirable place to be. And yet, here we are, we have this beautiful lotus flower that's blooming."

Ariana’s going to keep blooming. She’s opening a brick and mortar store in Oakland later this summer.

Katherine Simpson is a teacher and journalist in the Bay Area. She's been working in public radio since 2018.