Florists get upset at street vendors

February 12, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Valentine's Day is usually a profitable time for florists, but florists in East San Jose are worried. They say unfair competition has moved in and the city is doing nothing about it.

Two days before Valentine's Day, Valley Florist in East San Jose is busy, but not that busy. The owner blames the slow economy and street vendors, who sell Valentine's Day flowers and baskets without a permit. This time of year, they pop up all over East San Jose, even in neighborhoods and then disappear.

"It is frustrating because I lose customers," says Ravi Ravindranath, the Valley Florist owner.

The owner claims to lose about $10,000 in sales every Valentine's Day to these competitors who offer much lower prices than most florists.

To give you an idea of just how much cheaper street vendors are able to sell their products for, a medium sized basket would sell for about $35 and in a floral shop, it could sell for 60.

"Most people see a price comparison and can't differentiate between a $20 rose and a $40 arrangement," says Ravindranath.

Juan Lopez knows that and is using it to his advantage.

"The people don't have too much money. I can lower the price a little bit not too much," says Juan Lopez, a street vendor.

He is set up in this parking lot on McKee Road without a city issued permit. Lopez barely gets by as a construction worker and is hoping selling flowers and baskets will pay off. He got his flowers at a where house in L.A. and drove them up. San Jose florists have complained to the city, but have gotten nowhere.

"The city is strapped," says Xavier Campos, the San Jose planning commissioner. He says enforcement is not an option, education is. "Perhaps through a focus group, start asking them 'How can we help you be a sustainable business?'"

Even then, florists wonder if there is enough business for everyone.