Orchids, tulips and peonies, oh my! I have heard tales of NYC’s flower market and that it offers a distant sister to the old-fashioned meat markets where purists rise at 5 a.m. to secure the best and freshest produce. Located on 28th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues, Manhattan’s flower district is home to a wealth of wholesale retailers that specialize in everything from fresh-cut flowers, exotic plants, pottery and ceramics, foliage, silk flowers, trees, etc. There is so much offered that many storefronts utilize their sidewalks to showcase their products, thereby transforming this block into an urban jungle not expected in this mass-concrete city.
Unlike most wholesale flower markets, NYC’s does not require a license to shop there so after 8 a.m. many housewives and non-florists descend upon the shops looking for a good deal. The 5 a.m. crowd is strictly florists that are there for business supplies, and have cultivated relationships and long-standing accounts with many of the wholesale owners. Many of these stores have been in businesses for generations, carrying on the family traditions they learned from childhood and speaking in flower lingo that few these days understand. When quoting prices to each other in a particular store, the owners would say “Tulips-3-line,” which means a tulip stem would be $1.50 (“line” means divide in half, but also note that flowers are sold in bunches of 10 stems).
Prices are not listed throughout the store, so interaction with the owners is mandatory, unlike most shopping these days. Each shopper can place their flowers on a shelf that acts as their staging area and continue to shop. I saw many florists orchestrating masterpieces in their head while standing in front of their check-out shelf, holding bouquets and imagining the transformation from plastic wrapping to vase. Once it was time to pay, a worker would come over to help call out the order to a man by the old-school register who knew the prices from memory. The sequence went something like this, “Hostas- 5 bunches. Blush peony- 2 bunches. Canadian Alstromeria- 5 bunches. Blue New Zealand Hydrangea- 6 stems,” and so on. Then you would receive the grand total from the circus master and the flowers would be wrapped in paper and you’d be on your way!
I happened to be in the district around 10 a.m. on a Saturday, so there were plenty of housewives, some of which decided to drag their husbands around— and they looked about as comfortable as gentlemen forced into Victoria’s Secret. My companion was a high-end florist in the city and she explained that the market is in Chelsea, after all, therefore there is no shortage of judging what each person is buying. Come on, even Martha Stewart told the nation that Baby’s Breath is so out of style! For the floral outsider there is much to learn. The tulips in white netting as opposed to paper come from France. And there won’t be another shipment of orchids till Thursday, so get your fill now! Obviously!
In addition to flowers, there are many wholesale retailers of pottery and craft supplies, thus making it a true florist haven. Some stores sell various tree branches and I saw women buying Cherry Blossom branches for the centerpieces they were getting ready to create. The market is open Monday through Saturday if you’re looking to check it out yourself. The pictures I took here were from Associated Cut Flower, G. Page and some random storefronts.