As I arrived in San Francisco’s Mission District to visit the cozy floral shop Ampersand I was filled with excitement at the site of their bright barn entrance yards away. Locals and visitors alike streamed in and out with flowers while I was warmly welcomed by the two owners, Benjamin and Emerson. A couch and coffee table sit in the middle of the shop for guests to sit back, relax, and take in the aroma of the flowers filing nearby buckets. Freshly picked flowers surround the store in vases and pots ready to be picked for arrangements. Benjamin and Emerson openly chat about florals for everything from a casual Sunday morning to a wedding in the vineyards of Napa. Ampersand has gained attention from prominent brands who seek the creativity of the duo and their ability to take something beautiful and turn it into something beautiful for their customers. Emerson sat down with me to discuss how the store came about, what spurs them to move forward each day, and advice on how dreams can become reality.
How was Ampersand created and what spurred the idea?
Ampersand was created out of a sense of necessity. We were working terrible corporate jobs and not enjoying our life direction. We wanted to work in something creative, be our own bosses, make our own path, and work with our hands. We decided we wanted to work with flowers, so Ampersand in every sense sprouted from a passion, with emphasis on community, nature, and each other.
How did you choose San Francisco for the location?
We actually live around the corner, there were no flower shops in the Mission District, one used to be here but it closed down last year. We always knew we wanted to create a flower shop in the Mission because we wanted it to be set in our own neighborhood. We needed something that would be unique and draw attention, which is how the color for the entrance was selected. Teal is a color you don’t normally find in nature, especially flowers, so we created a contrast to anything floral we had in Ampersand.
What is a typical day at your shop?
We wake up, I usually go to the flower market to pick up flowers and stems from our local growers, we hand select what we want in the shop that day. Ben is usually in the shop preparing different flowers, cleaning and making sure everything is in order before we open our doors. He also does the accounting and emails. When I come back we fill the shop with that day’s hand picked flowers and open.
Tell us what it means to be passionate?
I would say to be passionate is to have an insatiable thirst for whatever you’re moving towards. For us it’s owning a small business, being creative and working with flowers. Passion is a key driver for our goal for success in our business.
What is the best part of owning a flower shop?
I would say the sense of community, working with people and seeing them become so enthralled with flowers. Working with flowers in general is amazing and seeing others share the same interest in what we invent in our business is rewarding.
Has anyone given you a message that you take to heart?
From a personal standpoint, my Dad owns a business that he opened the year I was born. The small business world has always been in my life because I saw someone work endless hours towards making their family happy and aiming towards succeeding at their goals. My whole family is very creative and they all embrace each other’s differences.
What are some of your biggest achievements?
Right now, we are at a very good place. We designed flowers for a Vogue video, Old Navy did a commercial in the shop, and we had a Martha Stewart feature in April. So much has happened in less than a year.
Any advice you would give to those starting their own business?
I’d say have a clear concept and a clear voice on what you want your company to look like. As for our company, we took a lot of time building the infrastructure for how we wanted the company to feel and what we wanted the shop to look like. Looking back, we are very close to what we saw ourselves achieving and aiming for.
What keeps you going forward with Ampersand?
When you own a business or do anything where you put yourself out there, you are your own worst critic. With every flower design I learn to be better at the craft. I always try to grow my own aesthetic and I tap into different ideas and take risks, seeing what works and doesn’t work. I think it’s about testing, treat every idea like a test tube station. Try out different ideas and don’t be afraid to take a risk to see how it works. It’s about keeping up with all the wonderful opportunities that are coming your way.
Written by Megan Duenas