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Stem

Beautiful Blooms and Graceful Gifts

  • Stem
    3690 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110 (Map)
    (415) 861-7836

Once again we’ve reached the time of year for red, white and pink window displays of boxes of chocolates and bouquets of flowers. The rose of course is the flower commonly associated with Valentine’s Day. Dating back to the 17th century, the theory goes that the red rose was chosen as it was the favorite flower of Venus. A single perfect red rose combined with baby’s breath is called a “signature rose” by florists and is the most common way that people demonstrate their love florally on Valentine’s Day.

That said, roses are pretty played out. So, where does a savvy flower shopper who wants to get something out of the ordinary go? Stem, located in the Mission at 18th Street near Dolores, is a good place to start.

Stem, run by Maxine Siu, has been around since 2005. Maxine and her husband Joel Bleskacek formerly owned Bell and Trunk on Potrero Hill. That’s where Maxine picked up and fine tuned her flower design skills. After selling the store Maxine pulled up stakes and started Stem in the Mission.

Instead of a menu of flower choices, you can pick from what’s out on the large table in the store. On the day I visited, some of the choices were tulips, forsythia and paper whites. Other winter flowers and foliage that you might find at this time of the year in the store include but are not limited to: African violets, amaryllis, camellias, clementines, eucalyptus, gardenias, hydrangeas, ilex berries, lady apples, lisianthus, magnolia leaves, muscari, ranunculas, roses and seckel pears. What you won’t find is a lot of greenery. Maxine considers it filler and says that it takes away from the simple beauty of the flowers.

Prices for floral arrangements are determined on a case-by-case basis. You can go about it a couple ways. You can pick a bunch on your own and see what the price is when it’s totaled up, or you can say “I’d like to spend X amount of dollars,” and Maxine will put together something special for you. You can also order flowers online. They will aim to fill your request, but at times substitutions may be made depending on what is seasonally available. Deliveries are available, but only Monday through Friday. Stem also does arrangements for weddings, restaurants, parties and more.

At this point I should make it clear that Stem not only sells flowers, but also carries other items such as home accessories, cards, and children's clothing and books. In this sunny and tastefully designed space you can choose a small gift to augment your token of love.

For example, the store stocks a wide variety of hand-crafted and/or artisan gift cards from companies such as Two Piglets ($3), Modern Printed Matter ($4) or Night Owl Paper Goods ($6). Other thoughtful items include candles such as an Afterglow Natural Massage Candle in Black Currant ($25) or a set of six etched botanical juice glasses ($42).

In addition to the gifts and flowers, there is a section of children’s items that are all things kawaii (cute in Japanese), including a Kawaii Kimono contained in a sushi box, with a floral design in either pink or purple ($36); “It’s a boy” or “It’s a girl” shirts for those who may be confused or forget ($39) and a Frankie Baby bib with cartoon cowboys ($18).

As you may have noticed, the prices are a little steep. And as beautiful as the store is, it felt a little cold. I didn’t witness a lot of warmth from the owner. She didn’t seem too interested in greeting or helping clients unless they specifically asked. In this time of economic distress, good customer service can often be what pushes your decision to pick one spot over the next. And with the prices as high as they are here, I think friendly and helpful service might make the high prices a little easier to swallow.