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Jackson Heights Flower Shop to Close After More Than 40 Years on 37th Ave.

By Katie Honan | February 27, 2017 12:04pm
 Susan Lee, in a photo from the 1980s.
Susan Lee, in a photo from the 1980s.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

JACKSON HEIGHTS — After more than 40 years selling bouquets and plants, and doling out advice, Ho Flowers and Plants is closing permanently.

Owner Sue Lee died in May of a heart attack, after returning to work soon after suffering a stroke in 2010, her son, John Ho, said. She was 72.

And although he learned a lot about the business from his mom, he won't be able to keep the shop open without her connections and eye for design, he said.

"You have to be an artist to do this," Ho, 46, said in the final weeks of the shop, as neighbors came in to say goodbye — many buying plants to remember both him and his mother. 

Ho tried to keep the store open, including letting a pop-up floral shop spend weekends at the store last fall. But he said he simply doesn't have the same passion for it his mom had.

On Friday, Councilman Danny Dromm honored Lee's memory with a citation from the City Council, celebrating her life and business at the shop on 84th Street and 37th Avenue they moved into a few years ago after decades across the street. 

"Susan Lee was a beloved mother, neighbor and important part of the Jackson Heights business community for so many years," Dromm said.

The store will officially close at the end of the month, Ho said.

For the many customers who popped inside for a wide array of plants and flowers, the loss of both Lee and the shop is deep.

"She was wonderful, the store was always beautiful, she is missed," Lisa Cacciatore, who's lived in the neighborhood for 40 years, said. 

Lee's ex-husband, Ben Ho, opened the store, selling mostly wicker baskets and furniture, in 1972. A year later Lee came to Queens from South Korea with her two sons, who were babies at the time.

Lee, who grew up in a village in the mountains hours outside of Seoul and studied design in college, slowly began incorporating floral design in the shop, her son said. 

She had connections with Korean churches and began making elaborate arrangements for weddings and funerals — and soon, the store shifted to focus solely on flowers. She was known as a "plant doctor," doling out advice on how to make leaves shine, or how much water a philodendron needs to survive.

She made arrangements for the Miss Korea contest and even appeared on Korean radio stations to answer questions from listeners on plants. 

Contestants for New York's Miss Korea at the shop, in 1993.

The original shop on 37th Avenue. (DNAinfo/Katie Honan)

"The community would always walk in and ask how to take care of plants," Ho said. 

He spent much of his childhood in the back of the shop, helping out especially after his dad left in the 1980s, he said. Lee was left to raise her two sons and run the shop alone — but she rose to the challenge.

"My mom was a strong, independent woman," her son said. "She was strict with us because she wanted the best for us."

On the rare times she wasn’t working, she hiked, going with groups on trips to the Catskills, the Thousand Islands and the Appalachian Mountains.

“Hiking was her main thing,” Ho said. “She said she loved nature.”

But Lee didn't like to take many vacations, returning a few times to South Korea but remarking to her son that she felt like a foreigner there. Years ago, Ho bought her tickets to visit her sister in California — but she never went. 

"She told friends, 'I have to take care of the store,'" Ho said. "Her foundation was here."

Lee had a stroke in 2010, but returned to the shop as soon as she got out of the hospital. Her son came back up to help her out, and has been in Queens since.

Her plan was to retire within the next few years and move to Douglaston. But she died in her sleep in May.

Her friends and customers — who would bring her books, fruit and Korean medicine — have been steadily streaming in ever since, to check on Ho and mourn Lee.

Yeun Cho met Lee through a friend, and although she didn't know her very long, they shared a strong friendship. 

“Being Korean old ladies, we just clicked,” she joked. 

"I knew her a short time but she was a special person. Losing her was really tough and I’m going to miss this store."

After closing, Ho said he'd like to spend more time with his two children before figuring out his next move.

He's spent the past six months reflecting on his mother's life, realizing everything she sacrificed for him.

"I wish i could tell her I’m really, really grateful," he said.