[dropcap size=small]I[/dropcap]f you’ve seen the flower shop with the hanging birdcages on Bernard Street, you’ve probably stared in awe at their mystical charm. There’s something strange yet beautiful about the white empty cages hanging down from the balcony and the flower pots and leaves entangled in the mix. There’s no large sign outside, but you can rest assured that this little shop is indeed Dragon Flowers, run by Hong Kong-born Tamey Lau.

IMG_1875Lau opened the shop over 25 years ago despite knowing very little about flowers, but as a single mother she needed the money to raise her children. Since opening, her kids have grown up and her shop has become less of a job and more of a passion. Out of all the types of stores she could open, Lau chose to sell flowers because “a flower is different; everyone can enjoy it, from two years old to 98 years old.”

IMG_1836IMG_1853When we approached Lau for an interview, she agreed under one condition: that she could continue working while we spoke. If you walk past Dragon Flowers at any time of day, even at 3 in the morning, you can expect to see Lau working away in her shop. As the only employee, the quality and upkeep of the flowers in the store are a result of Lau’s tireless care. “Some people think I’m superwoman,” she says, leading me into the backyard to begin moving her flowers indoors for protection from the wind.

A couple years ago the shop suffered a devastating fire that left Lau in major debt. The Mile-End neighbourhood is known for its community spirit, and this time residents really pulled through by raising over 20,000 dollars for Lau to reopen the shop.

IMG_1839 (1)IMG_1848She relies on her flowers to sell themselves and the reputation she’s built for herself in the neighbourhood. During our interview a kid on a bicycle rode by and called out “Hi Tamey!” and according to her, this isn’t uncommon. She often gives children a flower when they come into the store and since she’s been there for so long, kids who she used to give flowers to years ago come back to the shop with their own children to introduce them to Tamey.

IMG_1865IMG_1859The birdcages that hang outside the store have made Dragon Flowers an iconic spot in Mile End. Lau had been selling the birdcages for many years but only hung them outside several years ago because of the positive energy they emanate. Simply put by Lau, “the birdcages make everybody crazy” and outside, you can often see locals admiring the shop front and tourists taking pictures.

IMG_1851IMG_1870After all she’s done for her kids, she particularly loves the time around Mother’s Day and seeing kids come by the shop to bring joy to their mothers. She explains that “from selling flowers I hear many stories” and recounts a heartfelt story of a young boy who biked to the store at five in the morning to purchase a bouquet for his grandmother who raised him. This particular event really touched Lau and reinforced why she does what she does.

IMG_1881IMG_1861A delivery arrived, cutting our interview short, but Lau made sure to give us each a flower before leaving. Her giving spirit, along with her dedication to her craft are the reasons for her success and persistence. At the end of the day she runs a business, and since she doesn’t have a business model or an advertising strategy, she places her care for her product and her customers above anything else. A model for many business owners to follow.

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All photos by Charlotte Guirestante-Ghomeshi.