Floral District Hit by Inflation Amid Pandemic Recovery



Flowers line the sidewalk in The Floral District. Photo by James Francois-Pijuan

As the weather turns colder, the previously blooming business in Midtown’s floral district is once again drying up.

During the height of the pandemic, many restaurants purchased plants and flowers from the district on West 28th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues to decorate their outdoor spaces. The increase in demand from outdoor dining setups during the spring and summer bought some shop owners a temporary chance at regrowth. But now, as they look to rebound from the pandemic’s hold on large events, many are also faced with an increase in wholesale prices amid inflation.

“It was a very difficult time for florists, and it was a very trying time for the industry,” said James Francois-Pijuan, owner of Francois-Pijuan Floral & Event Design in the district. Francois-Pijuan has designed corporate and nonprofit events attended by global leaders including Former President Obama and the late Queen Elizabeth II.

“There were no events, there was nothing,” said Francois-Pijuan.

Francois-Pijuan explained that even now, with Coronavirus restrictions lifted, corporate events are scaled back. He said he worked on 10 large events this September as compared to about 40 in September of 2019.

Even before the pandemic, floral shops across the country were seeing a decrease in business. According to statistics database Statista, the United States recorded $8.17 billion in florist sales in 2000. That’s compared to $5.63 billion in 2019 and $5.12 billion in 2020, an approximately 500 million dollar decline during that period.

During the pandemic, Francois-Pijuan estimates at least 30% of floral shops in the district permanently shut down.

“As the weather gets cold, we expect to have less business from outdoor dining restaurants,” said Sari Schimek, an employee at Tropical Plants & Orchids on West 28th Street near 6th Avenue.

Schimek said during the pandemic, the shop received orders from an average of 70 restaurants a month, keeping it in business. Even with the help of those sales, Schimek explained overall business still declined as compared to the pre-pandemic levels.

At Superior Florist on 6th Avenue, employee Tony Gee explained a similar situation. He said sales are down by as much as 20% compared to 2019.

A decrease in business is not the only concern. Francois-Pijuan said rent in the floral district now
costs anywhere from $7,000 to $25,000 dollars a month and because of inflation, there’s been an increase in some wholesale prices. He said the cost of one orchid plant from Asia, a premium grower, is up about $15 on average, to $35 from about $20. The price for 25 roses increased from an average of $15 to $17 to about $30 to $35.

Because of the rising costs, Francois-Pijuan said he had to increase his average price per arrangement for his customers by about $50.

“I used to frequent 28th street for my job at an event planning firm,” said Meghan French. “Once Covid hit and many of our events were canceled or postponed, I no longer had a need to shop there as regularly,” she said.

French explained that she’s noticed more non-floral businesses opening around the area and the district appears to be shrinking. She said the employees are very hardworking and she hopes that “they can keep the magic of the flower district alive.”

Francois-Pijuan agrees and to help make that mission a reality, he launched a website called “NYC Historic Floral District” last October. The website includes information about the history of the district, the people who work there and a vision for the future. “This is a platform to amplify the importance of the floral industry, to advocate for a more centralized marketplace…to support and unify the businesses that fall under the floral district umbrella, and to work towards creating legislation to support the economic stability and survival of a centralized floral district,” it reads.

“I wanted to make something permanent for the community,” said Francois-Pijuan.

Francois-Pijuan is in the process of creating a nonprofit organization to raise awareness and raise funds for businesses in the district. He said his overall goal is to create legislation that would help achieve economic stability in the community.