Anyone in Greater Boston who got a rose on Valentine’s Day likely had that rose pass through the New England Flower Exchange in Chelsea.
Located in a formerly vacant warehouse, the new hub of Valentine’s Day – and every other flowery occasion – has been established.
The New England Flower Exchange on Chelsea’s Second Street virtually handles about every rose that may end up in the hands of lovers today, Feb. 14, which is Valentine’s Day.
On Monday, the Exchange was brimming with activity, as it was the last possible day for the nine wholesalers in the Exchange to get their product out the door to local florists, who in turn provide the necessary flowers, vases and accompaniments to customers for the big day.
It was the first Valentine’s Day holiday for the Exchange in its new location, after having moved from Boston’s South End (where it was next to I-93 and called the Boston Flower Exchange) after 50 years last March.
“Valentine’s Day is stressful,” said Jerry Cupp, of Cupp & Cupp Corp. – one of the longtime Exchange wholesalers. “I think that it’s one of the busiest times here at the Flower Exchange. So many things can go wrong. We’ve been going from 4 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. If they had eight days, it would be eight days a week. Today is the big day though.”
Paula Parziale, a long-time general manager of Berkeley Floral Supply, said Valentine’s Day can be a challenge for a wholesaler.
“We do call it hell week around here,” she joked. “It’s actually more clean and organized than it’s ever been. Valentine’s Day is all about roses. There are so many varieties of roses now, you have to get your orders in to the growers early so you don’t get bumped. For us, family and friends know not to call us or text us until Feb. 15 – unless it’s an emergency.”
For many of the wholesalers in the Exchange, Valentine’s Day is about managing the difficulties – such as shipping or weather. With this year’s holiday time having pretty nice weather, it’s been a bit easier in that department. But many in the Exchange have been around for decades, and many remember how they had to scramble in bad Valentine’s weather.
“It’s a week that’s just a little more stressful than a regular week – mostly with the shipping and logistics and the weather,” said Bob Hall of Kelley Floral Supply. “That’s the main concerns, the weather and the shipping. For a lot of the flowers here, the journey can start in January in South America. There’s a lot that can happen between then and Feb. 14. That’s the things that stress us about Valentine’s Day.”
The New England Flower Exchange is a wholesaler, much like many of the fruit and vegetable dealers in the neighboring New England Produce Center. That means the general public cannot waltz into the facility and buy directly from any of the business there. However, anyone with the proper floral credentials can establish an account, and most every florist in the area does their shopping at the new Exchange – which sources most of its flowers from Ecuador, the United States, Colombia and Holland.
Many of those growers, as Hall said, begin growing to supply wholesalers at the Exchange right before Christmas – meaning that the flower’s journey begins long before February.
In fact, Valerie LaCount of Washington Park Florist in Chelsea said many consumers think that the flower industry engages in price gouging at Valentine’s Day, but it’s not the case. Instead, she said the growers have to sacrifice two or three crops to provide the volume needed for the American Valentine’s Day. That special circumstance comes at a premium cost, she said, for the wholesalers.
“People don’t understand the growers have to forgo an entire harvest or two to get the kind of production needed for Valentine’s Day,” she said. “People think it’s gouging, but it isn’t. The volume is there, but the wholesale costs are so high that you don’t make a lot of money on Valentine’s Day. Normally, I would charge around $60 for a dozen roses, but that goes up to $90 on Valentine’s Day because the wholesale costs are twice as high. Believe me, I’d close the store on Valentine’s Day if I could, but I can’t because I haven’t won the lottery yet.”
Meanwhile, the major story besides Valentine’s Day at the new Exchange is the move that they made last year – now facing their biggest flower holiday-season in the new location.
“It has been such a smooth transition; it was wonderful,” said Janina Cupp, market manager. “They actually did business in the South End up to closing on Feb. 28, and on March 1 came over here and opened the next day. It’s been really great. It’s been better for some florists than others. Those from the North Shore and Maine love it. Those on the South Shore aren’t so happy, but they’re making the transition. The Tobin Bridge is the issue, but everyone has grown accustomed to it. The last market was worn. This market has a lot more open energy to it. There’s one aisle and you can see everything, plus the new lighting is much better.”
The Exchange began it’s build out in mid-December 2016 after their old location in the South End sold to the Abbey Group to be developed into about 1.5 million square feet of premium high-rise office space. The former Exchange had been in that location for 50 years, but the development push on what had become prime property was too strong.
On March 1, nine of the wholesalers made the move, with one staying in the South End area and another closing. Several, such as Carbone, moved over their operations, but also significantly expanded their offerings of vases and other accessories.
A new wholesaler of vases from New York has also been added.
But the major message is that they’ve found success, and stayed together.
“It’s worked out a lot better than anticipated,” said Jerry Cupp. “We anticipated something like a 10 or 15 percent reduction in sales when we moved. It has turned out just the opposite. The way this building is designed is a lot better. It’s more open and you get a great visual of everything. There are coolers and refrigerators. You can get the product from the cooler trailer to the floor and the coolers much quicker. That matters.”
Parziale said one of the best parts for her has been keeping the wholesalers together. The floral business, she said, is one that doesn’t change much, and many of those in the wholesale and retail markets tend to become like family over the years. There had been a threat that everyone would split up, but the new Exchange has prevented that, she said.
“I don’t think there are too many complaints at all,” she said. “We’re just really lucky we all got to stay together because it’s very unique to see a Flower Market stay together under one roof. We could have all split up. That would have been sad. Many of us have been working side by side and together for 30 or 40 years…For the customers, it’s important because you walk in and have everything you need all in one place. You only have to get out of your car one time.”
Hall said they were also concerned in leaving the South End, but as it turned out, the concerns weren’t warranted.
“We were concerned, extremely worried really, about what would happen if things went the wrong way,” he said. “We had a few bumps, but in all, it’s been positive.”