One cannot help but be enveloped by the sweet, fresh smell of flowers upon entering Scotts Flowers. When I commented on the intoxicating scent, Brooke Roman, a sales associate and design consultant, smiled and said, “I’m noseblind to it! ” I marveled at the floral masterpieces in the front room, particularly a beautiful purple box overflowing with delicate flowers. I learned that Brooke, herself, had come up with the idea to start creating flower boxes, a concept that she told me is used in Europe, but rarely in the United States. Upstairs in the office space, Olivia, Tom and I sat down with Rob and Chris, two of the three Palliser brothers. Their father, Robert Palliser, Sr., started the business in Queens before moving to Manhattan in 1982. Opening a flower shop was all he could think to do after getting home from the war: He had never gone to college, but throughout his childhood he spent quite a bit of time in his uncle's florist shop. Over the years, Robert had several different locations, including Park Avenue and 23rd Street, before settling at the current spot in 2006. Although he is semi-retired, his son Chris explained with a grin that his dad still “comes in to bellow and bark at people. ”Despite the fact that all three brothers helped their father work in the shop when they were growing up, each one stated that they had no intention of entering the flower business. Rob studied film and Chris and Jonny, the youngest, majored in business. Rob was the first to join his father at Scotts in 2013 as an interim job, and then got "sucked in. " He told us that his biggest contribution to the company was that he “brought in the internet. ” The addition of online sales and Rob’s efforts to begin thoroughly branding the company doubled the size of the business in just a year. Meanwhile, Chris was stuck in the business world and was not enjoying it. He was living with Rob in the East Village at the time, and when his older brother asked him to help with the rapidly expanding family business, Chris joined him. Jonny is the newest member of the team, having only graduated college in 2014. After only spending a short time with the three, it was evident that they had each carved out their own niche within the shop - Rob is the charismatic marketing man, Chris is the quiet business mastermind, and Jonny is the hands-on man-of-the-people. When I asked what Robert Sr. thought of all three of his sons working together in the family business, Chris replied, “My father is to the moon. ” It seems that the whole Palliser clan is involved in the shop, including Silvana, the boys’ mother, who occasionally does the bookkeeping. Rob, Chris and Jonny have their suspicions about their father - they are certain that he planted the seed in their minds that caused each of them to ultimately come back to Scotts. Despite the fact that they disliked having to come here during their vacation days when they were school boys, they always noticed when their father would point out the window of the car at signs that had “and Sons” or “and Bros. ” on them. At an early age they understood how badly he wanted his flower business to become a family affair. “He was drilling it into our head at a very young age, ” Rob commented. Since the three brothers have taken over, Scotts has experienced many changes. Where the business used to get most of its clients through the wedding industry, now most of the flowers are going to restaurants, hotel lobbies, and corporate events. The company also has a small gardening department for city rooftops. With the addition of an online side to the business, Scotts has been able to implement Same Day Delivery. Rob is also “putting structure into the business” by branding it. The company has a new logo, which has replaced a series of eight different logos that would change depending on the season. The Palliser brothers are very proud of the charity work that they do, including dedicating arrangements to the Avon Walk to end Breast Cancer. On the day that we visited in early November, the three brothers were celebrating “Movember” - they were not shaving in order to draw attention to men’s health issues. The Pallisers hope to open up a few more locations. “I have a vision. I’d like to go to Brooklyn one day, ” Rob mentioned. It was really moving to see three sons working so happily at a trade that their father had strived so hard to build for them. “I love it, ” Rob told me, adding that he is always eager to start a day filled with flowers. “I keep waking up early, before my alarm clock. ”
Everyone on West 28th between Sixth Avenue and Seventh Avenue has a story to tell about life on the garden block, but I found one of the workers at Foliage Garden's story to be the most inspiring. "I was raised in the Flower District. My entire life is wrapped up in this street, " she told me. "I invested my life here. " After 9/11, however, she made the decision to move upstate, where she felt safer raising her daughter. Not long after, she came running back to the city at the call of her dear childhood friend. Maryann Finnegan had recently lost her husband and needed help running Foliage Garden, a retail and wholesale market that sells magnificent orchids and a multitude of other plants. The part-time worker at Foliage proudly told me that the shop has been in the same location for over thirty-five years, having opened in 1981. Maryann added, "We are now the oldest plant store on the street. " She then said that what differentiates her from everyone else is, "we have our own greenhouses under glass on Long Island. "Maryann and her team have befriended many of the people who created the Flower District a long time ago. Sadly, her co-worker related that "so many of the old men have passed away. " There are still, however, a few remaining who have wonderful stories to share. "There is so much history on this block, " she continued. "We were once called the Times Square of Flowers. " She described a time when every single storefront was filled with flowers. Today, she is pleased that she came back to Manhattan. "I can put up with anything here because I still love it - it's my passion. "
Not everyone is an expert in their field before they open a shop - Kostas Panagopoulos, the owner of Floralies, is the perfect example. He opened his flower shop with a partner in 1981 and came into the flower business by accident - looking to try something totally new, he decided that becoming a florist would be his next move. “I had no idea about flowers. I knew what carnations were, and that’s about it, ” Kostas said. Despite his relative lack of knowledge, over the years, Kostas has built a thriving business. Floralies is perhaps best known for its daily service, a feature they started in the New York flower industry many years ago. Kostas sells flowers to many corporations, and then replaces the flowers in the arrangement daily as they wither and die, ensuring that an arrangement looks beautiful for a longer period of time. Though this process was not profitable at first, Floralies made a name for itself, gaining various clients throughout Manhattan. As business grew, Kostas made sure to keep his values close to his heart. “Tell the truth always. It can be unpleasant at the time, but it creates trust with customers and employees, ” he advised. As evidence of their popularity, Kostas was proud to share with Manhattan Sideways that they do not advertise their products or services. “We have spent not one penny on marketing, yet continue to bring in 2, 000 customers a month, simply by word of mouth. ” Kostas then pointed out that this feat is especially amazing considering how long Floralies has been around - he has survived multiple stock market crashes and economic slowdowns, both of which heavily hit his corporate clients throughout the years. When we visited in 2017, we learned that Floralies had recently begun expanding into the event business. While they continue to service their corporate clients and meet with people planning parties, Floralies does not sell retail flowers, preferring to design their beautiful arrangements for larger clients. Kostas has been in the business for several decades but he is happy that is son is taking over in the near future. Looking back on his run, Kostas reminisced, “I’ve been successful because my customers have been satisfied, but more importantly, so have my employees. I look at them as human beings. When they are happy, I am happy, and the business is successful. ”
If one asks Shula Wiener to describe her ultimate goal for Flowers by Special Arrangement - which she has owned and managed along with her husband, Dov Bronner, for thirty five years - her answer is ambitious yet simple: “I want to have flowers here that nobody saw before. ” Given that she regularly imports dozens of flower varieties from countries as diverse and far away as Chile, Holland, Peru, Italy, Spain, Japan, and New Zealand, it is not hard to be convinced by her determination. With carefully designed, customer-specific flower arrangements, Shula’s product can adapt to any scale: from small arrangements delivered to residences to large-scale services for weddings, anniversaries, bar and bat mitzvahs, and corporate events. In addition, Shula and Dov, who both moved to New York in the 1970's, contribute regularly with flower arrangements to community programs. “I’m a big supporter of community life”, Shula said, “It’s very important. ”At any given time in the store, Shula and Dov have four blocks of a variety of flowers to offer as a menu for their clients, with whom they work closely to provide the right design for their specific purpose. Shula then noted that a single flower can have upwards of a hundred varieties, but she also emphasized that she can easily accommodate requests for specific and exotic varieties. There was a period where Shula would arrive at John F. Kennedy Airport at 3am to buy the imported flowers to sell them to the retail shops by 5am, executing the role of a “flying Dutchwoman. ” With ten years of experience as a distributor and several more on the retail and wholesale side of the business, Shula knows the industry inside and out. She bought from one of the first flower shipments from Holland in 1981, truly making her a “pioneer” of the industry, as she described herself. In reality, however, Shula allows the quality of her product, and not just her long professional experience, speak for itself. If an event is scheduled for Saturday, the flowers will arrive at the store on Thursday (to be watered and taken care of) and be arranged on Friday. This way Shula and Dov can ensure that only the freshest flowers arrive for their clients. According to her, that is what keeps the business running: “We’ve survived for so many years because the quality is superior”. Though it has only been in its current spot since 2013, Flowers by Special Arrangement has been around since the mid 1990's and the breathtaking flowers encapsulate decades of experience and attentive customer care in their petals.
Where can you get freshly “picked” flowers that won’t trigger your allergies? We headed to W36th Street in the Garment District, to a century-old factory and shop where fabric flowers are still custom-made by hand daily — “blooming” everywhere from movies and TV to high fashion design houses. Opened in 1916 by brothers Morris and Sam Schmalberg, the M& S Schmalberg fabric flower factory is the oldest and last of its kind in the US. It still employs many of the time-honored techniques for handmade flower making, and craftsmanship skills and the business itself have been passed down through the family over decades. Fourth-generation owner Adam Brand walked us through the legacy of the shop started by his great-great uncles. The M& S Schmalberg storefront in the 1940s. Photo suppliedSam Schmalberg. Photo supplied“I grew up here — there are staff members who have been here as long as I’ve been alive! ” said Adam as we chatted amid display cases of beautiful, brightly colored fabric flowers. “My grandparents, dad, mom, brother, sister and aunt have all been involved at some point — it’s truly a family business. There are fun family stories — I don’t know if they’re true or just family lore at this point — that I used to sleep in a fabric box like a crib! ” While Adam started his career at M& S Schmalberg at age five by making flowers for fun — “just for entertainment, not for production! ” he insisted — he began working at the store in earnest between semesters of school. “We were really busy with Sex and the City at the time — Sarah Jessica Parker was wearing our huge flowers in her costumes, ” he recalled. While he worked outside the business for a few years after college, Adam eventually returned to help his father, Warren, and grandfather Harold (nephew of founders Morris and Sam) at the factory. “About 14 years ago, I was kind of just at a place of wondering, ‘What am I doing? Where am I going? ’” said Adam. “One day I said to my dad, ‘Can I come in and help out, and see what happens? You don't even have to pay me, just pay for my train ticket! ’” he added, “and as a New Yorker, you know that’s not cheap! ” Adam's grandmother Renee, aunt Debra and grandfather Harold at the shop. Photo supplied The gig grew, and as dad Warren moved closer to retirement, Adam took on more and more of the day-to-day responsibilities — including the creation of flowers. While M& S’s veteran team of artisans complete the majority of crafting work, Adam walked us through the system he’s come to know after decades of observation. “This basic process has existed for over 100 years, ” said Adam as he showed us the hundreds of vintage irons — some from the factory’s first years in existence — that are still used to press fabric petals into unique designs. First, fabrics are brushed with a starching agent called sizing to eliminate wrinkles in the material. Next, fabrics are stretched and dried by hand before being cut into petals. Designs are arranged into the iron press — once gas, now the factory uses electric power to join petals together. Stems and extra accoutrements are applied by hand before the flowers make their way to a theater, fashion atelier or TV costume designer’s hands. While the team at M& S is well-versed in all aspects of the custom construction, today there are far fewer skilled flower artisans in the Garment District. “In the old Garment District, you could go to the labor union and say, ‘We need somebody for assembly, we need somebody for die cutting, we need somebody compressing' — there were so many other flower factories, ” said Adam. A recent profile of the shop by costume historian Bernadette Banner estimates that in the early 20th century, over 74 percent of flower and feather trade manufacturers were located in the Bronx and Manhattan — many of them in the Garment District. Now, like so many other specialty costume and fashion businesses once occupying the historic neighborhood, M& S Schmalberg is the last of its kind due to ever-increasing offshore manufacturing. Adam said he feels camaraderie with fellow Garment District holdouts, telling us: “I hold all of these manufacturers who produce here in such high regard — because the easy thing would be to ship it out. Continuing to manufacture here instead went from being maybe a questionable business decision to becoming part of our identity. ” Warren Brand with Adam Brand. Photo suppliedThat’s not to say that Adam and his family haven’t taken steps to bring M& S Schmalberg into the 21st century. In addition to updating the company’s website and creating social media accounts, Adam credited his brother with having helped pioneer their presence on e-commerce retailers like Etsy. “Before I started working here, my brother created an Etsy page, ” he told us. “We’d get an email maybe once a month for a $12 flower sale. But I started to get obsessed with amping up our photography and presentation — it took me a while, but I took to it, and now our sales from Etsy and Amazon are as much as 20 percent of our business. ” It’s a business that’s marked not only by the ebbs and flows of the fashion industry, but also the entertainment industry. “I could tell you our biggest customer this year, ” said Adam, “but it's different from the one five years ago and 10 years ago, ” he explained. “In fashion, Vera Wang is one of our biggest clients. We work with Rodarte, Oscar de La Renta, Marchesa, Carolina Herrera. We do flowers for Bridgerton, The Gilded Age and Marvelous Mrs Maisel, the New York City Ballet, Radio City Rockettes and the San Francisco Opera, ” he added. “We had someone come in from the San Francisco Opera and buy five flowers — and that led to an order of over 4, 000 flowers total! ” They also showcased 17 designs on The Met Gala red carpet. “We had an amazing run with the Met Gala, ” said Adam, “My dad came back in that whole week and helped! ”Jenna Ortega, Paris Hilton and Harvey Guillén in M& S designs at the Met Gala. Photos: Instagram Even during the slower periods, the team at M& S stays busy working with student groups from nearby FIT (the Fashion Institute of Technology) and Parsons School of Design to show young artists the legacy of the fabric flower industry. “What's in it for us, if you will, is that you now have 15 to 20 students from every tour that are going to go into fashion and now know about us, ” said Adam. “We help them on their final projects. If you're a fashion design student, it’s a great way to really get into and utilize factories and build relationships. ” But whether you’re a budding Calvin Klein or not, the M& S Schmalberg factory is open to you, said Adam. They welcome walk-in tours of the factory for those curious about their unique offering. “Anyone can come in, ” he said, as a couple rang the bell to buy flowers and take a look around. They also welcome those who would like to order custom flowers from a significant fabric like a wedding dress, he noted. “It’s one of our specialties — we have a vintage wedding dress in the back right now that’s getting made into a single rose. ” He hopes that by engaging with the public, more people will know about and turn to M& S for their distinctive artistry. “We try to be very welcoming, which is something my dad started, ” said Adam. “Anyone who wants to walk in the door is welcome to a tour, and if you want to buy a flower for $20 bucks? Great! ” We recommend making the trip to M& S Schmalberg for a free tour of the city’s singular fabric flower maker — and keep an eye out on billboards around town for M& S’s next Hollywood showcase!
The excellent selection of herbs, flowers, leaves, roots, and seeds at Flower Power can spice up any home, flavor any cuisine, add zing to any tea, or add a little pizzazz to anyone’s day. There is so much to see and learn – glass jars packed with herbs, dried flowers hanging from the ceiling and a helpful staff willing to converse about the healing power of any item. After spending some time here taking in the aroma, we definitely walked away feeling calm and centered. And as we learned from neighboring shops, Lata Kennedy, owner of Flower Power, is the "main witch of the East Village. " She is described lovingly as a healer for all.
I cannot imagine a more beautiful way to end a day of walking a side street than stepping into this magnificent floral shop and engaging in a conversation with the lovely owner, Banchet Jagaila. This particular shop opened at the beginning of 2013. With the exception of some of her breathtaking orchids that come from Thailand, all of the flowers are flown in directly from the fields of Holland. Banchet described for me the colorful flowers that she remembered as a child growing up in Asia and the disappointment that she felt when she arrived in the States in the 1980s only to find “carnations and mums. ” She knew that there had to be more, and she promised herself then that someday she would change this. Springtime was her favorite season while living just outside of New York, as she loved the peonies and the cherry blossoms that would grow outside her apartment window each year. She believes that she was inspired by these soft pink colors and began making bouquets with them. Today, Banchet has two shops and adores planning events in either of them, or anywhere else that she is beckoned.
PLEASE CALL TO MAKE AN APPOINTMENT“Flowers bring the innermost smiles out of people, this little moment of awe and wonderment. That’s what I try to give, ” said Bella Meyer, who runs fleursBELLA, an Edenic oasis on 11th Street. As the granddaughter of revered artist Marc Chagall, flowers have long been a part of Bella’s life. Chagall is known for his modernist depictions of vibrant blooms, and he always had a bouquet in his studio while he worked to remind him of the chemistry of colors. Bella, too, shared his passion for natural beauty. She initially meant to follow in the footsteps of her father, a “formidable art historian” and museum director in Switzerland. Bella was researching and writing her PhD in medieval art history while teaching at a university in Paris when she eventually gravitated toward other creative pursuits. She found herself spending more time decorating spaces, painting, and making puppets, masks, and theater costumes. Like her grandfather before her, “I wanted to color the whole world around me and beautify it, ” Bella shared, albeit through different mediums. When seeking a way to express her joy at a friend’s marriage, she took it upon herself to build a chuppah (a wedding canopy) out of flowers and birch branches. The project was an epiphany for Bella. “I was intrigued by the symbolism of the decor. To create meaningful things and spaces, I realized I needed flowers. ” She made arrangements for several events before deciding to open fleursBELLA as a retail business some twenty years later. She envisioned the studio as one “where people could just walk in and find a moment of peace. ” The space was designed to be deeply personal, and she brought in items from her childhood in France to achieve this. The bathtub that her mother bathed her in as a baby is now used to wash the daily flower deliveries, and the family’s old bookshelves are lined up like sentinels along the walls. “These things hold all the warmth of the best parts of my home and my mother, ” Bella believes, and they lend to the shop’s special atmosphere. Above all, fleursBELLA acts as a creative outlet, allowing Bella to convey her philosophy on life and beauty through the blooms she sells. Visitors are greeted by a serene woman made of moss, with foliage climbing the walls and flowers adorning every surface — entering the wild, wonderful shop feels like a sudden departure from the city. As Bella aptly describes it, fleursBELLA is “the perfect hidden place” for someone to get lost in.
Nic Faitos was not always in the flower business – in fact, he started out working on Wall Street. But the financial world just was not right for him. “I fell out of love with what I was doing, ” Nic told me. “I was having my midlife crisis a bit early – I went from being a broker to being a florist! ” Standing in Starbright, it is not hard to see why Nic was drawn to this sector. The space is filled with bright light, and the scent from all the flowers is enough to make anyone fall in love with their job again. Nic started Starbright in 1993, and for the first twenty years, Starbright operated out of a second-floor industrial space on 28th Street, focusing on corporate clients and large contracts. They provided flowers for clients like Ernst & Young and Columbia University, along with several other large corporations and a number of major hotels. In 2015, Starbright moved to its current 26th Street home. Although it was not far geographically, Nic explained “this was a big move for us. ” The new space is twice as large as the old, and, being on ground level, offers an opportunity for Starbright to draw customers from the street in addition to their existing corporate clientele. Nic has been embracing that opportunity by having a floral “happy hour” every Thursday throughout the summer when everything in the store is half price. “There are all these pubs and bars on the block, ” Nic exclaimed, “Everybody’s having happy hour, why can’t we? ”Starbright is by far and away the largest florist that I have come across on a Manhattan side street thus far, and so I asked Nic to tell me a bit more about how his business operates on this scale. I learned that they receive shipments of flowers three times a week, from places as far away as New Zealand, South America, Singapore, Holland, Israel, and Italy. In a given week, Starbright handles twenty-five to thirty thousand stems. I could not imagine what so many flowers would look like, and so Nic said, “I’ll show you! ” and led me to the walk-in refrigerator that keeps their blooms fresh during the hot New York summers. The fridge was fully stocked with flowers in boxes and buckets, each a different color, and all waiting to be arranged by the designers who work at large tables in the main area of the shop. I was content to stay for some time and watch them – each employee was a true artist, combining the flowers as a painter might mix different colors on a canvas. Starbright’s size allows them to bring in many flowers that are not often found at other florists in the city. Nic showed me a few of the more rare blooms, including the deep purple vanda orchid and the trumpet-shaped calla lily. “We donate a lot of flowers too, ” he told me. Starbright often sends its arrangements to charitable organizations like Gilda’s Club and the Ronald McDonald House, believing that sharing beauty is an important way of helping others.
The Manhattan Sideways team was captivated by the inside of La Fleur from the moment we stepped inside. The atmosphere was bright and welcoming, with vibrant flower arrangements liberally displayed throughout the shop and an array of vases lining the shelves. We were instantly greeted by the charming members of the staff, who did not hesitate to chat with us about La Fleur. We were surprised to learn that Louis, the store’s owner, had not always planned on entering the floral design industry. In fact, he had studied Hotel and Service Management and worked for internationally recognized corporations including Hilton Hotels and Starbucks. It was not until 2004 that he decided to complete a certification course in floristry at New York Botanical Garden. Soon afterward, he apprenticed at some of the top flower shops in the city, including Ariston and L’Olivier. He opened Harlem Flo, his first independent venture as a florist, on 122nd Street. In 2016, this was replaced by La Fleur d’Harlem, the newest iteration of the business, on 144th Street. His move has proven to be successful. Over the past few years, Louis has had the opportunity to provide arrangements for everything from lavish weddings to casual anniversary bouquets. In addition, Louis and his team have enjoyed designing small floral terraces throughout the city and traveling outside of Manhattan to provide flowers for special events in the Hamptons, New Jersey, and upstate. One of his favorite projects was a Citbank sign made out of flowers. Louis explained that his focus has always been on service - "understanding and learning each customer's preferences and needs. " He is pro-active in letting clients know what is available, showing them what he can do, and working within their budgets. "I always try to manage people's expectations, delivering the best I can for them. "
Nature and urbanization have often not worked well together and yet, many profess otherwise, believing in the therapeutic, restorative effects that a bit of greenery can have. Situated underneath an elevated train track amidst the incessant whistling, rattling and shaking of whirring locomotives and the chatter and horns of the bustling streets, I discovered the Urban Garden Center. It is a whimsical, unassuming little contradiction, bringing the wild beauty of nature and an equally wild urban world to one place. Walking through the outdoor paths of the Urban Garden Center, I found a charming refuge from the city, filled with intertwined branches, trees, and string gardens (clumps of moss cradled in strings with plants growing from them). Farther through the aisles, was a semi-covered section that resembled a greenhouse, as well as cactus gardens, orchids, barrels of bulbs, and hanging plants. (The greenhouse is not truly indoors I realized – there is just a frame of a roof, but Dimitri Gatanas, one of the owners, suggested that "It makes it feel like people are walking indoors. " The Urban Garden Center is owned and operated by the Gatanas family. They have lived in the city since the 1940s. I have had the pleasure of meeting several members of the family when stopping by, learning pieces of their history from both mother Aspasia and her sons. Dimitri told me that the Urban Garden Center has been around almost as long as his family - since the 1960s - though it has gone through a few iterations. They originally opened on 89th Street, and then moved to 86th, and later to 102nd. In 2010, the sons discovered an empty lot underneath the train track, running from 116th to 117th Street, and converted it into its present day green oasis. Aspasia told me that when her boys came to her to say that they had found the perfect space to move their long-established family garden center, she thought they were insane. "It had no electricity, no running water, no bathroom and I was supposed to smile and say, 'great. '" She then went on to say, "When you're around this long people take notice, no matter where you go. " And, while sharing the family's collection of New York stories and photographs, Dimitri was quick to point out an old photo of his grandmother, Calliope Gravanis, standing on a rooftop in Harlem. He was proud to elaborate on his mom's comment, “Our family has gotten to know the neighborhood really well over all of these years. ”