While flower shops are plentiful in cities across the world, a new flower shop in Iraq’s arid city of Basra is the city’s first, selling fresh cut flowers imported from Holland.
As the poverty stricken city enjoys an economic upturn, shop owner Murtatha Hassan decided to open his venture to give locals a taste of something different.
“There is a large turnout from people because they are surprised by a shop selling fresh flowers in Basra,” Hassan told Reuters TV.
“It’s a new and fresh idea for Basra. Young people are the ones who most frequent the shop, as well as physicians, companies and hotels,” he added.
But frequent power outages and high cost of transportation are a constant challenge for the young entrepreneur, who said these forces him to charge a high price for the flowers.
The price of a bouquet of flowers at Hassan’s shop ranges from 60,000 Iraqi dinar (nearly $52) to 150,000 Iraqi dinar (nearly $129).
“People are surprised by the price, but it’s because they are costly. In most countries, flowers are cheap, but here they are expensive,” he explained.
“It is because of the cost incurred in transportation and in maintaining the fridge, which makes the price high. In other countries, the government handles the transport to the shop, so shop owners do not incur the cost, but here, I have to pay for the fridge and power.”
Basra, a southern city that used to be called “The Venice of the Middle East” because of its criss-crossed canals, now has the canals looking like filthy pools, with stagnant water filled with heaps of rubbish.
Roads are damaged and only a few hours of electricity are provided every day.
Years of war and sanctions have left Iraq with a shattered infrastructure and most of Iraqis are forced to improvise to guarantee themselves a proper supply of electricity.
Hassan pays 750,000 Iraqi dinar ($645) for a neighborhood generator to guarantee around the clock power in order to keep his flowers alive in special refrigerators.
“If power is supplied adequately and the shop rent is affordable, the price of the flowers would be cheaper than it is now,” he said.
Unemployment was the driving force behind Hassan's undertaking of this venture to provide himself a decent living.
“There are no jobs in Basra and the government does not support young people, like help them start small businesses.”
“As young people, this is what we can do to help with our income and living standards and to somehow have a normal life, so that's why I went in this direction and opened this flower shop,” he added.
He said since starting the business, he has gradually seen growth, mostly due to the current economic boom in Basra.
“People are looking for something new and they always come to us.”
Basra is Iraq’s oil hub and is considered the most attractive destination for foreign investors. Yet little of the oil wealth has trickled down to the local residents.