In good hands: New Sherwood Florist owner sets up shop

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

Mount Baldy resident Sean Khao has a unique 2023 resolution: to establish her footing as the new owner of Sherwood Florist.

On August 1, 2022, Khao officially became the new owner of the iconic flower shop. The 44-year-old succeeds previous owners and founders Juan and Rosie De Lira, who retired.

The De Liras owned Sherwood Florist for more than three decades and at one time expanded the brand throughout Southern California. At the time of the sale the Claremont shop was the last remaining location. The De Liras began the shop in 1990. Age was the deciding factor that led Juan De Lira to retire.

“I’m 70 years old,” he said. “As you know in every business, when you stay there too long things kind of get … the same all the time.”

He worked with Wheeler Steffen Sotheby’s realtor Bernadette Kendall to find someone to take over the business.

Khao’s mother, Yen Ly, informed her daughter that the florist shop was seeking a new owner. On a whim one day, the two popped their heads into Sherwood for more information.

“I walked in, Juan was getting flowers from the coolers and I met him. He said he was just kind of done, and wanted to retire,” said Khao, who had recently left an archival post with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. “I said, ‘Well, I’m looking for something new. I don’t have any expertise in this, would you be willing to teach me?’”

Born in Taiwan, Khao’s family immigrated to the United States in 1989, when she was 11, landing in Columbus, Ohio. There her parents owned a Chinese restaurant, which introduced her to the customer service industry.

After high school, Khao moved to Southern California to attend California State University, Fullerton. She graduated in the early 2000s with a bachelor’s degree in photojournalism, and shortly thereafter made permanent her move to California. She worked for the Academy for 13 years, noting her robust commute: five hours in traffic, five days a week.

She was searching for new, fulfilling work. She found it at Sherwood Florist. So far the experience has been a dream come true. Asked what compelled her to jump into the unknown she said, “This has kind of been a young adult dream of mine. When I was younger, I always thought someday when I’m out of the rat race and when I retire, I want a little hole in the wall flower shop that way I can still stay connected with the community and still have social hour.”

 

Sherwood Florist’s new owner, Sean Khao. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

 

In September 2021, Juan De Lira began teaching Khao the ropes of the floral business. While Khao worked under him, he entertained other offers for the business. Some potential buyers wanted to change the business altogether, but he was adamant that it remain Sherwood Florist. Despite not submitting a dazzling offer like some others, he accepted it after seeing Khao’s passion for the work. He knew the business would be in good hands.

“It takes time, but she’s coming true,” he said.

“He’s been helping me through all of it,” Khao said. “I’m sure I still have plenty to learn and plenty mistakes to make on my own. It will happen, that’s the reality, but he’s been a great mentor.”

The deal wasn’t a typical exchange of ownership.

“Normally a business transaction like this happens and the two parties may not have even met each other,” Khao said. “They just do everything through an agent and its done. It’s very unusual but it’s a good unusual because we’ve become a family.”

Though the business may now be hers, Khao recognizes the legacy within belongs to the De Liras. The new owner regularly consults with them to make sure things are being done the Sherwood way.

“Sherwood is so well loved that I want to continue that legacy and make it even better with my own touches,” Khao said.

Some recent changes include clearing space in the previously tight lobby and installing a new gift boutique in the center of the store. The boutique features natural soap, lotions and candles by SoCal artists, whom she encourages to email her at  hello@sherwoodfloristclaremont.com with artisan queries.

More changes are yet to come. Khao would like to start a customizable subscription service, participate in more art events such as Claremont’s monthly Art Walk, hold classes on plants and floral arranging, and set up a studio in the garage area for special announcement photos. That space, Orange Tree Photography Studio, will be managed by photographer Patty Naranjo. Khao hopes to have it up and running by fall.

After a steady first six months of ownership, Khao is excited to jump into her first major busy season, Valentine’s Day. Juan De Lira will help her prepare in February, but said he’ll be stepping aside to let Khao run things after that.

Juan De Lira may be retired, but he’s continuing his floral work. When reached Tuesday, he was in the midst of filming an educational floral arrangement training video.

“I want to continue being able to move,” he said about the future.

Patrons can drop by Sherwood Florist, 404 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon, to meet Khao or place an order. The shop is closed Sundays. For information, call (909) 625-3309 or visit sherwoodflowersonline.com.

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