Will Selfies Save the Flower District?


New York’s flower district, more than 100 years old and a home mostly to wholesalers, used to thrive like a jungle along Sixth Avenue. Now it is concentrated in just one block of West 28th Street.

Long said to be on its way out because of a changing industry and continually rising rents in Chelsea, its surrounding neighborhood, the district could be saved, at least symbolically, from the very thing threatening its existence: gentrification.

In between the shops offering garden accessories and roses or ferns in bulk, several trendy hotels have recently opened on the block. Instead of pushing out the local shops, they are relying on the uniqueness of the flower district to lure visitors.

The hotel’s crown jewel is the Fleur Room, a lounge and nightclub on the 35th floor. Cocktails are dressed with blossoms (some are even lodged inside ice cubes). Couches are covered with a floral velvet. Vases of flowers are placed strategically between tables.

“It is all inspired by Dutch floral paintings from the 17th century,” said Angelo Bianchi, who operates the Fleur Room alongside Tao Group.

Part of his attraction to the project was that it was on this particular street. “I moved to the city when I was 17, and the first time I discovered this block I felt it was a magical oasis, one of the coolest blocks in the city because you just don’t expect all these flowers of different colors here,” he said. “Being on this block is essential to our identity.”

On weekends young people line up for the Fleur Room. And lines are not something to which this neighborhood is accustomed.

Historically, the sidewalks of West 28th Street have been more cluttered with potted plants than people, with the exception being early in the morning, when florists, event planners caterers and other trade professionals visit. But now, throughout the day, tourists and New Yorkers alike are visiting. And lingering. The vegetation, it turns out, is proving to be popular backdrop for photography and general loafing.

Mr. Weiss said having lots of random people browsing in his shop is not helpful for professional florists who come there to focus. “A lot of my customers need to come in here and get out,” he said. “I can feel their frustration. It isn’t as easy for them.”

Then there is the unfortunate fact of renting in a hot neighborhood.

“Is the flower district dying right now?” Mr. Baksh said. “No, but rent is going up, and eventually flower shops won’t be able to afford it. It’s going to cause a slow death.”

In the short term, Mr. Baksh hopes that the new businesses continue to honor the neighborhood’s history and identity. “At least the Chelsea Moxy has Putnam,” he said of its mini store. “At least they are keeping the flower market surviving.”



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