Boyle Heights - It’s an emotional moment for Karen Nobuta, as she prepares to shut down the flower shop that her parents founded 67 years ago. But then again, flowers are an emotional business.
“Everything is emotional with this flower shop,” Nobuta said. “Because you have birthdays, weddings, funerals.”
On Feb. 1, after 67 years of supplying floral arrangements for multiple generations of the same Boyle Heights families, Haru Florist at the corner of E 1st and Savannah streets is closing down for good.
A few things led to this, Nobuta said. Her mother died last year. Then came COVID-19. And as the pandemic dragged on, the neighborhood - where Nobuta had grown up, where the nuns had walked her and her sister home from school and gave them each a cookie, where Nobuta and her siblings sometimes slept in the orchid boxes in the back of the shop - this neighborhood no longer felt safe.
The L.A. Times lists several homicides in recent months not far from Haru’s block on East 1st Street: A 25-year-old man on Soto Street in August; a 31-year-old man on Winter Street in September; a 30-year-old man on E. 4th St. in November; a 22-year-old man on Soto Street in December. All of them shot to death.
And amid all this, it dawned on Nobuta: She worked late at the shop. A lot.
But she grew up here. Her parents, Hank and Ruth Yoshimizu, started Haru florist in 1954, in a storefront where, in part, tofu had been manufactured. Hank and Ruth combined their first names to create the name of the shop, according to Rafu Shimpo, which added that “haru” also happens to be Japanese for “spring.”
For awhile, the family lived on Evergreen Avenue with Nobuta’s grandfather (who himself had a flower shop in Grand Central Market before he was sent to a Japanese concentration camp in World War II, and lost everything - including his wife, who died in the camp). Then the house behind Haru Florist opened up and the Yoshimizu family moved in.
The customers watched the Yoshimizu children grow up - Karen, as well as Kary, Rodney, Sharen, and Dani. As Hank and Ruth grew older, the children began handling more and more of the business. And as for those customers who had watched them mature - Karen found herself arranging flowers for their funerals.
It’s a bittersweet time to leave the business - and an awkward time, as well. People she’s known all her life - or maybe all their lives - want to stop by to say goodbye. And of course, they can’t. Nobuta’s daughter just had a baby, and the family is being extra careful.
“There’s a lot of people that want to come.” Nobuta said. “But I tell them there is a pandemic, and my daughter has a big sign that says ‘No walk-ins.’ ”
After Feb. 1, Nobuta said at least she’ll have time for a lot of things she’s put off. Helping with her new grandchild, for instance. Or just going to her doctor. Not long ago, she even had a tooth pulled because never had time to go to a dentist.
She'll have time for all these things. But she won’t have the customers.
“I think people that buy flowers, they’re very sentimental,” Nobuta said. “I think that’s why we’re so lucky to have all these wonderful customers. They have a warm heart.”