The pungent aroma of flowers fills the air with the sound of light chatter in the background. The owner, Stacie Lee Banks, walks out with a black t-shirt that read “Lee’s Flower Shop” and a pink fleece jacket. She sat down in a comfy grey chair and reminisced on her business.
Banks, the owner of Lee’s Flower Shop on U Street, is a proud resident of Ward 3 and a graduate of D.C. Public Schools and the Howard University School of Business. During her time at Howard, she built the groundwork for her business and entrepreneurial skills. She now partners with the university on events such as Charter Day.
Her grandfather, William P. Lee and his wife Winifred P. Lee, founded the flower shop in 1945. Banks is a third-generation co-owner of Lee’s along with her sister Kristie Lee. Lee’s was founded during a time where “U Street was considered the ‘Black Broadway,’” said Banks. It was during the time of the Black Renaissance, and their business was booming. Popular black performers, such as Duke Ellington and Pearl Bailey, performed right across the street at the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra.
Lee’s Flower Shop is a 2018 recipient of the Great Street Grant, a $50,000 grant given to small businesses throughout the DC area. With that grant, the co-owners gave the shop a $200,000 which prompted a “Grand Re-Opening two year ago. This grant turned the shop clean, cutting edge, and chic.
The customers walk into the shop and are greeted with smiling faces that are ready to help. “Hi, welcome to Lee’s and how may I help you,” is just one of the many lines customers hear when they walk into this bright shop. Lee’s Flower Shop has always tried to keep “[uphold] the tradition of being a friendly neighborhood place.” Banks also said that they try to form a camaraderie with the customers and keep the legacy of a friendly business alive.
U Street was full of black-owned business, but things took a turn when riots happened after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Many shops were looted, but Lee’s was spared. 14th Street N.W. was hit the hardest, according to Lee. “Black-owned” was written on the windows so that the business would not be looted. “My father and his mother, Winifred Lee, they spent the night at the shop, and they had my grandfather’s shotgun. They wrote black-owned on the windows of the shop,” laughed Banks.
Since her time as co-owner, she has worked on numerous significant projects, like President Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration. She stated how she wanted to keep Lee’s in the family and niece and nephew are now working at the flower shop. They will one day be fourth generation owners.
“I think that my grandparents always gave us a lot of creative freedom to make changes…we were always able to do the things we wanted to do,” Banks said.
Joi Tyler, Banks’ niece, has worked at the shop since she was young and is now 20 years old. Her current job entails answering the phones and customer service. Tyler and her brother Chase know that one day this business will be theirs. Besides many customers coming in and asking for a red rose, “people come in the store and ask for is if we are a black-owned business,” she stated. It is evident that Lee’s has had an impact on the community and will continue to.
Since the official opening, a lot has changed in D.C. and around the U Street neighborhood, but Lee’s has remained consistent. This small business in this vast city has prospered with no plans to stop growing.One main piece of advice Stacie Lee banks said was to, “pay your bills on time and treat everybody with respect and have integrity in your business.”
“The one thing I do regret is not buying a condo across the street as a business…they were only $40,000 now they are $200,000,” Banks laughed.