Since the early weeks of the pandemic, Stacie Lee Banks, AAF, and Kristie Lee, have been inundated with texts and emails offering advice and funding opportunities, including the PPP loan, a micro-grant for small businesses and even hours of pro-bono legal work from an internationally known firm. That goodwill reflects years — 75 to be exact — of relationship-building the sisters, and their father and grandparents before them, have done as owners of Lee’s Flower and Card Shop in Washington, D.C.
“When you’re good to your community, your community is good to you,” said Banks, a former “Small Businesswoman of the Year” winner who has campaigned for local politicians, helped many charities and served on a number of boards, including the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the ReOpen DC Advisory Group.
Additionally, in normal times, the sisters host fun activities in the shop, including mini concerts and a “flower power happy hour,” they help lead neighborhood events, such as the “Dog Days of Summer Sidewalk Sale” and Small Business Saturday, and they stock their gift shop with exclusively DC-made items.
That persistent passion for their community has netted Lee’s a lot of influential friends and loyal followers eager to support the business however they can.
“We love our neighborhood,” Lee said. “We love our city. We’re very involved. We get it from our dad. He knew what his ancestors went through to have a voice. He’s always instilled in us the value of voting and being active in the community, to make it a place we’re proud to call home.”
Here are a few ways Lee’s inspires local love.
Know your customers. Take a cue from “Cheers” — people want to go where everybody (or at least the owners!) know their name. That familiarity extends to furry friends. “Kristie knows every neighborhood dog’s name,” Banks said. “That really makes people feel good.” The sisters always make time for small talk with their regulars, doing their best to make customers feel like family.
Pump up your neighbors. As one of the last three remaining businesses from historic U Street (a corridor once known as “Black Broadway”), Lee’s is regarded as a pillar of the community — a platform Banks and Lee don’t take for granted. One way they give back is by seeking out aspiring artists to feature in their gift shop, Lee’s Cross Pollination, and special activities, such as their mini concert series. “We consider ourselves mentors to up and comers,” Lee said.
Support local leaders (ideally before they have power). In 2014, the women went door-to-door campaigning for now D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, a very loyal customer. The Lee family has done this for decades. Sometimes their candidate is victorious; sometimes, not. “You can’t predict who’ll win but you shouldn’t be scared of being shunned if you support a loser,” Lee said. “What’s important is researching the candidate and backing someone who aligns with your values.”
Make time for press. Journalists are also part of the sisters’ deep network, and they always make time for an interview — even if it’s during the wee hours of the morning on Valentine’s or Mother’s Day. “Press is so powerful,” said Banks, who received a $50 check “to end systemic racism” from a stranger who saw her on the news this summer. Her advice for talking to a reporter? “Know your shop history and just tell your story,” she said. “The more you do it, the more comfortable you get.”
Click here to watch the full program for more on the shop’s experience, especially in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.
For more details on their civic and community activities, click here to read “Local Legends.”
Katie Hendrick Vincent is the senior contributing editor for the Society of American Florists