Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Walking down 28th Street in the flower district is like walking through a tropical jungle – you duck under broad green leaves and breathe in the earthy smells – but it’s a jungle that’s being mercilessly clearcut for development. I wondered about the rumor that this traditional Manhattan market might be moving to the Bronx, so I asked around.
One longtime plant seller told me, “10 to 15 years ago, it was all flowers. Now it’s dead. They’re putting up 22 new hotels in a 5-block radius. Only those of us with a good lease will stay.” Another echoed the sentiment, “Some will leave, some will stay. All the city wants is big business. There are 3 hotels going up on this block.”
once a garden, now the Hilton Garden Inn...
and another one coming...
Thankfully, Superior Florists isn’t going anywhere. The shop has been in the same building since the 1940s and they own the property. “That’s the only reason we’re still here,” owner Steve Rosenberg told me.
Steve remembers when his whole block, from north to south, and 28th Street from Broadway to 7th Avenue, was all flowers. He remembers the characters, men who were like family, men who shouted curses and tossed their wares from one side of the street to the other. And he remembers the colors, “flowers piled up as far as the eye could see.”
His grandfather, Louie, opened the business in 1930. When I asked him how long he’s been working in the shop, Steve said, “Since I’m in diapers.” He started out sweeping the floors, then moved up to folding rose boxes and wiring flowers. He loved the shop and went there every chance he got, stopping in after school and later going home with his father, Sam, sometimes not until midnight on a Friday after spending hours “making weddings.” He wonders if he learned more in the shop and on those streets than he ever did in school. “You learned how to haggle,” he told me, “You learned when to open your mouth and when to keep it shut.”
Louie Rosenberg, founder
Haggling was a sport and an art. Steve used to go out early in the morning with his father and grandfather to buy from the wholesalers. “If a guy told you a dollar, you told him 50 cents and you walked away. The guy always came running after you, shouting, Okay, okay, 50 cents!” But there’s no haggling in the flower market today.
“The whole neighborhood,” Steve said, “has lost its character.”