The Brookland neighborhood in Northeast has become a bustling area of business activity fueled by small business owners and Petals Ribbons & Beyond, a Black-owned flower store, has emerged as one of its staple retail outlets.
Sara W. Lucas, 74, owns Petal Ribbons and has run it as her fulltime occupation since 2005, when she retired from decades of service with the District government. Lucas began her journey as an entrepreneur in 1988 while working for the D.C. Superior Court as its child care director. She and a few partners launched a flower shop. However, as time progressed, the partners left for various reasons but she stayed with the floral business.
“I like interacting with people and we offer great products to our customers,” Lucas said. “Meeting the customer’s needs is our priority. I have gotten texts from people in the middle of the night for a floral arrangement that needed to be done. It is tough but I get it done because we are customer-oriented.”
Petals Ribbons offers products such as flowers, greeting cards and balloons to its customers. People can stop by to purchase their products or have them delivered. Lucas said social media, the website and the Internet have helped her grow her business but traditional methods of communications continue to work.
“There is nothing like word of mouth,” she said. “When someone hears about how good your products are and how the good the service is, that means a lot.”
Lucas said she has been surrounded by flowers since her childhood. She recalled helping to maintain her grandmother’s rosebushes in South Carolina. Neighbors and friends would stop by her grandmother’s yard and clip the roses that they wanted. Even after she left South Carolina in 1966 to attend Spelman College in Atlanta and eventually to the District to work for the local government in the early 1970s, she retained interest in flowers.
Lucas’s love for the floral business got a major test when the pandemic came to the city in March 2020.
“I remember when COVID came to D.C. and everything was scary,” Lucas said. “The city and the country were on lockdown. My workers had to go on unemployment compensation and I was wondering where I was going to get the money to get my business afloat. Besides, I had to get money to pay my landlord and my bills.”
Lucas said she received financial assistance from the Bowser administration and $15,000 from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. She noted that in May 2020, her customers started coming back for Mother’s Day gifts. Lucas credits her loyal customers for coming through for her and the Brookland community for their continued interest in her business.
“When times were really tough during the pandemic, people who lived in Brookland would stop by or call and ask if everything was okay,” Lucas said. “I really appreciate their loyalty.”
On May 10, the D.C. Chamber of Commerce honored Lucas as its “Woman in Business Champion” at its luncheon during the Small Business & Economic Development Summit. Lucas said receiving the award humbled her. When asked what will she be doing in five years, she mentions a second retirement.
“I hope to sell the business,” Lucas said. “I want to become a consultant and advise young people on how to open and operate their businesses.”