First lady Chirlane McCray, holding a bouquet of wildflowers, and Mayor Bill de Blasio pay a fond farewell to Langdon Florist near City Hall on February 27. The 71-year-old institution – which they've patronized for more than a quarter-century and which supplied the flowers for their wedding in 1994 – is relocating to Staten Island. Photo: Benjamin Kanter, via Mayoral Photo Office
First lady Chirlane McCray and former first lady Laura Bush would appear to have scant little in common: One is a left-leaning progressive with ties to Brooklyn, the other a moderate conservative hailing from Texas.
But actually, they do share a common bond — their florist. Both women, along with one spouse, a certain Bill de Blasio, have been loyal and longtime customers of Joe Rizzo at 62 Reade Street in Tribeca.
Unfortunately, the owner of Langdon Florist — faced with rising rent, a brutal barrage of parking tickets, even the crush of film crews on Valentine’s Day — shuttered his downtown shop forever on March 10.
“It’s Not Goodbye,” Rizzo wrote on a sign posted in the window under Langdon’s green awning. “It’s See ‘Ya Later ...”
True enough. He’s not closing his business. But the store — a City Hall-area fixture, a few doors west of Broadway, founded at 57 Reade Street in 1947 — is pulling up stakes and relocating to distant Staten Island, where Rizzo lives with his family.
That can’t be good news for the wife of former President George W. Bush, who has been known to sweep in, Secret Service detail in tow, to buy plants for their daughter Jenna, who lives in the neighborhood.
And another regular, the actress Mariska Hargitay, who plays NYPD Lieutenant Olivia Benson on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” will also have to go elsewhere for her orchids and flower baskets.
“It’s been a good 35 years,” Rizzo said. “It’s bittersweet, that’s the best way to describe the feeling.... But I’m a luxury now, I’m not a necessity.”
Perhaps. But sending flowers to a loved one is a luxury that’s pretty tough to resist.
Consider the private visit McCray and de Blasio paid to Langdon Florist on February 27 — and the pair of little-noticed Facebook postings the duo sent afterwards.
“She came by with Bill the other day to say goodbye,” Rizzo said. The first lady didn’t leave empty-handed. “She loves lilies,” he added.
Rizzo ought to know: He’s supplied them with flowers since 1991, the year they met while both worked in the Dinkins administration. McCray would come in, as he tells the story, and suggest the kind of lilies she might prefer — should her beau decide to send them.HOW DANTE GOT HIS FLOWERS
When they wed, in Prospect Park on May 14, 1994, Rizzo provided the floral arrangements.
So a quarter-century later, their floral preferences were no surprise. “It was a loose wildflower bouquet with lilies and hydrangeas,” said Stephanie Gregg, one of Rizzo’s daughters, who has worked with him for 20 years.
A mayoral photographer dutifully snapped a picture of the couple with the multi-colored array, and shortly after, each took to Facebook.
McCray hailed Rizzo for “30 years of friendship and fabulous flowers!” She wrote of their “wonderful” shared memories — “from our courtship to our wedding and our return to City Hall,” adding, “Bill and I will miss having you in the neighborhood, but we’ll visit you on Staten Island!”
The mayor replied, “From our wedding day to Dante’s graduation, and countless Valentine’s Days in between, Langdon Florist’s flowers have brightened our lives — the same way they will brighten their new neighborhood on Staten Island.”
Not a bad recommendation for a small business.
“What my dad created was pretty great,” said Gracie Rizzo, the younger of his daughters. “He took this tiny little hole-in-the-wall on Reade Street and built it from nothing into this incredible empire that’s loved by so many people.”
So what happened to drive from Manhattan a 71-year-old institution that’s served mayors, models, ministers, municipal workers, actors, accountants, hard hats, hoteliers and stockbrokers?THE CUSTOMERS WENT TO QUEENS
“Volume used to be high, and costs were low,” Rizzo said. “Now, costs are high and volume is low.”
Take the rent. His lease expired two years ago, and he’s been paying on a month-by-month basis ever since. Luckily, Rizzo said, he gets along with his landlord, the same one he’s had for 25 years, but a renewal would have entailed a prohibitively steep hike.
“Who knows what he’d have charged,” Rizzo said. “The rents in Tribeca are ridiculous, and they’re threatening to drive all the small business people here out of business.”
Staten Island doesn’t boast downtown’s cachet or star power. What it does have is cheap rent: Today, he shells out $10,000. At his new home, he’ll pay less than $5,000.
Meanwhile, changes in the municipal work force wrought a decade ago by ex-Mayor Michael Bloomberg — the relocation to Long Island City of thousands of City Hall-area employees – denuded his customer base.
“Thousands of cups of coffee a day, thousands of slices of pizza, thousands of flowers left the neighborhood,” Rizzo said.
As those office workers decamped to Queens, and their buildings were converted to residential use, many as high-end condos, floors that once provided cubicle space to dozens of city employees, his patrons, now became private homes for just a handful of affluent families.
“The new residents might come in for Valentine’s Day,” Rizzo said. “Or they might not.”
There were other factors:
• September 11, 2001. Business interruption doesn’t compare to the catastrophic loss of three of his friends. But the terror attack cost Rizzo nearly $400,000, and the accounts he lost that day – Deloitte Touche, Dean Witter, Fidelity Investments — never came back.
• Parking tickets. A florist can’t function without delivery trucks. The city is always hungry for ticket revenue. The unhappy result? Rizzo paid $1,600 in tickets last month and owes another $1,000.
• Societal changes. Remember Secretaries Day? Founded in 1952, it was second only to Valentine’s Day in the floral trade, and marked the day when bosses, mostly male, bought flowers for their secretaries, mostly female. Now known as Administrative Professionals’ Day and falling this year on April 25, it doesn’t generate the volume of business it once did.
“There are no more secretaries anymore,” Rizzo said. “There are no more administrative professionals in the neighborhood either,” Gregg added.
• “Law & Order.” They film nearby practically every week, Rizzo said. The actors have become customers. “I love the show,” Gregg said. “They’re awesome.” The downside? They filmed in the bar across the street on Valentine’s Day, limiting access on the busiest day of the year.