Anyone in Greater Boston who got a rose on Valentine’s Day yesterday likely had that rose pass through the New England Flower Exchange in Chelsea – the new home of the former Boston Flower Exchange that spent more than 50 years operating in the South End on Albany Street until last year.
Now in a formerly vacant, but fully rehabilitated warehouse in a highly industrial area next to Chelsea’s New England Produce Center, the market has settled into the new location quite well. Despite some negative feelings when leaving the South End last March, this week on their first Valentine’s Day away from the neighborhood, they said things have worked out for the best.
For many of the wholesale flower dealers – who are more like family than competitors – leaving their South End home was sort of forced upon them at the time. Many described it as having been thrown a “curveball” as real estate values on Albany Street soared and the push for residential construction in an area once uninhabited leaned heavily on them. Eventually, it was so heavy they had to find a new home.
But it wasn’t as bad as they thought in the end.
“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 – dubbed Exchange South End. The approval process for that project is still ongoing and a meeting on the development is actually happening today, Feb. 15.
On March 1, 2017 nine of the wholesalers made the move to Chelsea, with one staying in the South End area and another closing permanently. 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, of Cupp & Cupp Corp., a major wholesaler at the exchange for decades. “We anticipated something like a 10 or 15 percent reduction in sales when we moved from the South End. 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.”
Paula Parziale, longtime general manager for Berkeley Floral Supply, 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.”
Bob Hall of Kelley Floral Supply 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.”
For Valentine’s Day, the Exchange handles about every rose that ended up in the hands of lovers yesterday on Valentine’s Day, and even when in the South End, the huge role the market plays in the region was often misunderstood.
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.
“Valentine’s Day is stressful,” said Jerry Cupp. “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.”
Parziale joked, “We do call it hell week around here.”
That might be the case on Feb. 14, but all in all, those at the former Boston Flower Exchange have found the move heavenly.