Home Lifestyle A Trip to the Historical New York Flower Market

A Trip to the Historical New York Flower Market

by Stephanie Spear
Attain Medspa
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It’s that time of year when everything is grey and soggy, and the vibrant colors of spring couldn’t feel any further away. But, there is one block of Manhattan where visitors can spin through all climates, all year round. On 28th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues is the New York Flower Market, where floral and event professionals buy their wholesale supplies, but the hobbyists and curious among us can visit. This otherworldly adventure is just steps away from the 23rd Street PATH Station, making it an easy trip to awaken the senses. Read on for more about visiting the New York Flower Market.

History of the Market

In the 1850s, flower vendors would set up their stands on West Canal Street market, which ran from Washington Street to Fulton to Chambers Streets, or near the East 34th Street Ferry landing.

It was an informal setup, with many vendors picking up blooms off a boat or train and walking just a few yards to set up shop. After the Civil War, open space in the city became harder to find, so more vendors went to the Union Square Market. At this time, the wholesale market emerged, with companies purchasing blooms directly from growers. Most of the florals were from nearby farms and greenhouses in New York and New Jersey.

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Floral associations were organized, allowing businesses to work together to place orders from farther away and expand the selection available to customers. The New York Florist Club was one of these organizations, and it was one of the first groups to urge its members to move to 6th Avenue. By the 1890s, many wholesalers had purchased warehouses along 6th Avenue between 26th and 29th Street.

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black and white photo of the union square floral market in 1908

^ Easter 1908, Flower market at Union Square. Photo credit: Library of Congress, Prints + Photographs Division, LC-DIG ggbain-03257

The move coincided with the rise of the theater, restaurant, and brothel industries located nearby. Nearby “Ladies Mile” was filled with new department stores including Bergdorf Goodman, Lord and Taylor, and B. Altman, attracting upscale customers. Elegant townhomes were also being built in the area, making Chelsea an attractive location for floral vendors.

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Now, in the early 20th century, the floral business was hugely popular. Flowers were sold as fundraisers for popular causes, and flower design shows were well-attended, frequent events. Flowers were used to distract from the smells of industrial New York: crowded streets, lack of sanitation, and general smoke and grit.

orchids at the new york flower market

A 1957 report from the US Department of Agriculture indicated that the New York Flower Market was the largest wholesale floral market in the US. Technological changes throughout the century changed the industry. Greenhouses meant that seasonal plants weren’t so seasonal, and the introduction of ice and then refrigeration meant that stems could be kept fresh for much longer.

At the same time, Manhattan changed, creating pressure for space. Several vendors moved to the suburbs or changed their operations, leaving only a handful of the original businesses on 6th Avenue. In the mid-1950s, 60 businesses were operating in the area. In 2004, there were 30.

About the Market

Now, a visit to the flower market is as easy as taking the PATH to the 23rd Street Station and walking a few blocks north. The market itself is made up of several smaller stores along the same street. Some shops carry only tropicals, others only greenery. Whatever you’re looking for, it’s here. Tall, fully grown potted trees are available right next to delicate orchids, and right next door is a shop offering cacti in colors only Mother Nature knew existed.

Some of the stores have been in business in the same locations for decades. Some of the buildings themselves are worth a closer look, with original tile details and other architectural elements still visible.

greenery on display at the nyc flower market

The street level is the draw, of course, but many shops have upper floors with showrooms, workspace, or even more inventory. Some businesses have floral design classes, and the New York School of Flower Design offers a variety of classes all year round both in person and virtually.

In addition to colorful flowers and luscious greenery, shops along this block sell other items for event designing and decor. Ribbons, silk flowers, vases, dishes, seasonal accents, planters, dried grasses, floral foam, and more are available to complete a Pinterest-worthy event design. Several businesses have plant rentals, just in time to turn a barren backyard into a lush setting for spring celebrations.

Good to Know

Since many of the shops cater to design professionals, that means receiving deliveries in the early morning hours. Many shops are open until midday, so this outing is best timed before lunch. Most stores open at 5AM or 6AM, with professionals making their rounds as the doors open. Visiting around 9AM or 10AM means that the initial rush is over and the block is less crowded, making for a more pleasant experience.

caribbean cuts at the NYC flower market

If we’re being sincere, the market is just as fun to window-shop as it is actually to shop. Even if you’re used to getting florals from local markets here in Hudson County, the New York City Flower Market is the busiest in the US and it’s a little overwhelming. So don’t feel pressured to buy anything right away — enjoy the scents and sounds of this busy block and return for a purchase when you’re ready.

colorful pampas grasses at the NYC flower market

When it’s time to buy, the staff will help wrap up your purchases. This might be a good time to bring a granny cart or small wagon if you’re purchasing oversized items like blossoming branches or oversized palm leaves. If you drove, the staff will help you load into your vehicle. Most stores also provide delivery.

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Notable Stops

Caribbean Cuts | 120 West 28th Street

Caribbean Cuts is a family-owned shop that grows its stock in Puerto Rico and works with other independent farmers. This shop specializes in tropical blooms, greenery, and other exotics.

Foliage Garden | 120 West 28th Street

This orchid and plant store has been in business since 1981. Ferns, trees, succulents, orchids, and more are available. Foliage Garden has its own greenhouse facility on Long Island.

Jamali Garden | 149 West 28th Street

Jamali Garden is a family-owned business that has ‘everything else’ for floral designers and event planners. This includes but is not limited to vases, candles, ribbons, trays, seashells, dried grasses, and silk flowers. If it exists in your imagination, it probably is at Jamali. The team sources items from all around the world and will work with clients to get the exact item needed.

New York Flower Group | 120 West 28th Street + 150 West 28th Street

The New York Flower Group is a business that combines the previous businesses Dutch Flower Line, G. Page Wholesale Flowers, and A Rose By Harvest. The company imports blooms worldwide, from Dutch tulips to items grown on the East Coast.

Superior Florist | 828 6th Avenue

This floral business is now run by the third generation of the same family, the Rosenbergs. This shop opened in 1930 and has been a part of countless celebrations and special events.

Special Stop for Brides: J Starr NYC | 135 West 28th Street

 

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A post shared by Jeannine Starr (@jstarrnyc)

This chic spot specializes in preserving florals. Owner Jeannine Starr is a resin artist who works with son Sam, a woodworker, and daughter Annie, who manages the store, to make floral art. Custom orders are welcomed, with many brides reserving their spots in Jeannine’s schedule months in advance. There are also ready-made pieces of floral art available in the showroom.

For floral shops here in Hudson County, check out The Hoboken Girl’s local guide.

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