“Florists’ Review spotlights some of the brightest floral spots in the City by the Bay.”
San Francisco is famous for so many things, such as: its fog; the Golden Gate Bridge; its progressive ideals; its history; and its role in the cultural revolution of the 1960s.
It’s also earned quite a reputation in the world of floristry. From the renowned San Francisco Flower Mart to the city’s longtime flower shops and the unique way it blends flowers and art, San Francisco blooms with floral beauty. Its unique climate, too – humid and cooler than other locales – also makes it incredibly friendly to a wider array of flowers than one might find elsewhere. Throw in creative designers who are pushing the floral scene forward along with stalwarts who are keeping traditions alive – as well as a populace who loves and consumes flowers and plants at a higher rate per-capita than that of almost any other city in the U.S. – and you have a floral scene that’s singular, vibrant and, quite simply, full of flowers
Here to Stay
If there’s one thing that Jeanne Boes wants people to know, it’s this: Though it is definitely moving, the renowned San Francisco Flower Mart is not going away.
“We are alive and well and as busy as ever,” says Boes, general manager of the Flower Mart. “We are going to move, but we are going to stay in San Francisco like we always have been.”
The reason Boes is so adamant about spreading the word on the Flower Mart’s future is because there have been some ever-evolving plans in recent years. In 2014, after nearly 60 years at its home at Sixth and Brannan streets, the Flower Mart sold the property to the Kilroy Realty Corporation. That entity is planning a massive 2.1-million-square-foot office and residential development at the site.
Originally, the Flower Mart was going to be in the ground floor of the development, but Boes says the 50 or so vendors who make up the mart have since changed their mind. Part of that shift comes from the developer’s plans to focus on bike- and pedestrian-heavy transportation in the area, including narrowing Fifth and Brannan streets from four lanes to two. That move won’t work well for the mart.
“We need to be somewhere we can move product in and out relatively quickly, all in vehicles,” Boes says. As a result, Boes says the mart is working with both the developer and the city to find a new home, preferably in one of San Francisco’s more industrial areas. She foresees a move in the next few years.
Past, present and future
But even though a move is in the future for the market, much of what it has always done will remain the same. Originally started in the late 1800s as a loose collection of growers who would bring their flowers into the city by trolley or ferry to sell in downtown, the mart found its first permanent home in 1924. As it grew, more space was needed, which led to the construction of the current mart in the South of Market (SoMa) area of San Francisco
Over the years, the mart has evolved from primarily a flower grower market to one comprising mostly wholesaler floral suppliers –fresh flowers and hard goods – with five grower members. The mart is the go-to source for local retail shops, event planners, floral designers, hotels, wedding venues and pretty much anyone else in need of flowers – including the public.
“This market is a cornucopia of wholesalers and growers selling the freshest varieties of flowers, and it has been a staple of the San Francisco economy for years,” says Jason Braatz, owner of Rossi & Rovetti Flowers.
The market opens to wholesale customers in the wee hours – from 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday,Wednesday and Friday and from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m.Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday – and to the public for retail sales from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Boes says the mart is the hub of Northern California for floral products, and it likely has the largest variety of products in the state.Vendors can also ship products around the world conveniently, and they can import flowers from global markets just as readily.
All of which makes the mart a keystone to the floral scene in San Francisco, a city where rising rents and property values have made it hard for brick-and-mortar floral businesses to survive.
But don’t worry, Boes says. Even though the San Francisco Flower Mart is moving, it will live on. “We will always be in the city of San Francisco,” she says. “The city is only seven miles by seven miles, so we’re not going far from where we are.”
A look at seven San Francisco florists, from the “old guard” to the new generation.
It’s not an understatement to say that Hoogasian Flowers is practically one of the roots of the San Francisco floral scene. The shop, which today sits at 615 Seventh Street, originally started when Missak Hoogasian, who’d come to San Francisco after fleeing Armenia in the early 1920s, began selling flowers on the street near Union Square. That eventually evolved into multiple flower stands and, eventually, a brick-and-mortar shop. Missak’s son, Harold, later took over the business, and 40 years ago, his grandsons, Harold Jr. and Larry Hoogasian, took the reins from their parents. And it’s still going strong.
“We do anything that needs to be done in the way of flowers,” Larry says.
The shop covers all kinds of floral ground, from weddings, funerals, birthdays and special occasions to simple everyday bouquets. Larry says, if anything, roses may be Hoogasian Flowers’ specialty. Thanks to his brother’s scientific approach to caring for flowers – Harold has a degree in genetics from U.C. Berkeley – Hoogasian Flowers has also perfected a way to keep flowers fresher longer. That includes a unique reverse osmosis deionization process and cutting-edge refrigeration.
Harold Jr. and Larry Hoogasian
Verkin and Missak Hoogasian
“Most of the callbacks we get are from people commenting on how long their flowers lasted,” Larry says. “It can be two to three weeks for some flowers.
”Beyond long-lasting flowers, Larry says the service Hoogasian Flowers offers has probably been the biggest key to the company’s longevity. “A long time ago,” he shares, “my father told me, ‘Once you sell the flowers to the customer and they leave, it’s not over. You have to make sure they’re happy when they buy the flowers, when they get home and even after that.’ And that’s what we do.”
Rossi & Rovetti Flowers
There is something both old and new about Rossi & Rovetti Flowers. On the old side, the San Francisco floral business has been up and running since it was founded by two Italian immigrants in 1871. That makes it likely the longest continually running florist in San Francisco, and one of the oldest retail florist businesses in all of the U.S. And on the (relatively) new side are the owners, the wife-and-husband team of Stephanie and Jason Braatz, who acquired the business from a family friend in 2003.
Jason says the shop, located at 739 Bryant Street, specializes in European-designed flowers. It also offers one of the city’s only free delivery options for flowers, and it offers a real-time order tracker that allows customers to track their flowers from order, through design, right up to delivery. “We have a high level of order automation, which allows us to have lower overhead costs, which we pass along to the customer in the form of free delivery and very competitive pricing,” Jason says. He says the floral scene in San Francisco has become challenging over the years as well-funded tech startups have launched in the space with the goal of customer growth rather than profitability.
Those companies can undercut more traditional shops by offering artificially low prices and deals. “Florists here have to work extremely hard to compete with the startups that can do things without a need for profit, in addition to having to compete with each other [other mom and pops] in the local market,” Jason says.
Offering personalized service has helped Rossi & Rovetti find continued success in an always challenging and evolving marketplace. “Meeting new customers and chatting with them via email or phone is why many of ours come to us,” Jason says. “There’s something to be said for the personalized experience that only a mom-and-pop business can provide.” In 2001, Rossi & Rovetti acquired Podesta Baldocchi, another grand, prominent, historic San Francisco florist business that also was founded in 1871 by Italian immigrants. In 1958, Alfred Hitchcock filmed a scene in his movie, Vertigo, inside Podesta Baldocchi’s palatial shop at 224 Grant Avenue. Today Podesta Baldocchi continues as an online business, delivering flowers in San Francisco, and Rossi & Rovetti offers a “Podesta Baldocchi Collection” on its website.
Jason and Stephanie Braatz
Harold Jr. and Larry Hoogasian
Verkin and Missak Hoogasian
Bespoke IXIA arrangement style & Floral design by Oxana SanukovaPhoto by StillNation Photography
(This page) Floral and merchandise vignettes in Sol Ambiance create a decidedly hip, urban San Francisco aesthetic.
Elizabeth’s Flowers is a floral design studio located at 240 Fell Street, in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood. Founded in 1989 by Elizabeth and Francis Idzkowski after they emigrated from Poland, this business began as a bodega and has evolved into a full-service floral design studio specializing in arrangements and décor for everyday occasions, special events, corporate clients, and seasonal and holiday décor for homes and businesses for more than 30 years. The Idzkowski’s children, Natalia and Daniel, who had both grown up in the business, joined the company after the Great Recession of 2008, with Natalie taking over operations and Daniel spearheading technology and strategy.
This small family-owned-and-operated florist is known for artful and sophisticated arrangements in a range of styles, from lush to minimalist modern, from traditional to contemporary and wild, and from styled to gathered. The company maintains a carefully curated selection of locally and organically grown flowers and foliage as well as unusual and exotic blooms, which are purchased every morning, ensuring a fresh and changing selection every day. Elizabeth’s also champions “natural” containers, such as recycled glass vases; wood and bamboo boxes; and ceramic, cement and stone vases. For a time, Elizabeth’s Flowers partnered with Uber to expand its delivery range and expediency, but today the company employs its own team of professional couriers to deliver, on average, 50 orders a day.
Designated a “San Francisco Legacy Business” about a year ago, IXIA is a full-service flower company creating bespoke sculptural floral arrangements that reflect the wonder of the natural world.
Customary inclusions in IXIA designs, which range from fresh takes on the familiar to the artfully exotic, are branches, tree trunks, driftwood, moss, succulents, pods, stones and other forms borrowed from nature.
Since Gary Weiss opened IXIA in the Castro District in 1983, the shop has been an institution, well known to area residents for its dramatic windows displays and signature arrangements. Today, Cheri Mims, who purchased the business from Weiss in 2017, maintains those IXIA traditions – although at a new location. Earlier this year, Mims moved the iconic store from the Castro to San Francisco’s Mission District.
Nestled in the heart of San Francisco’s Richmond District, at 5522 Geary Blvd., Sol Ambiance reflects the style, creativity and diversity of the people it serves. The shop is known for its playful use of petals, berries, leaves and branches as well as its distinctive selection of
plants, giftware and handcrafted cards. Led by owner and head designer, Oxana Sanukova, Sol Ambiance has established a loyal following in the weddings, parties and events segment by transforming clients’ styles and desires into memorable floral affairs. The shop also offers weekly, biweekly and monthly flower “subscription” services to enhance its clients’ homes and businesses with seasonal floral arrangements, plants and other décor.
Sanukova’s relationship with flowers is both intuitive and technical, supported by a knowledge of flowers honed from a lifelong passion for gardening, which started in a small European village alongside her grandfather. That kindled her interest in floristry, and her future path was set. She completed formal floral design studies in Russia and then freelanced for various florist shops and floral designers in the Bay Area.
A firm believer that you can never stop learning and honing your craft, Oxana is working toward an Associate Degree in Floristry from the City College of San Francisco.
It’s been called a “secret garden in the city,” and it is an adorable and celebrated event design studio and flower shop, “conceptualizing unique, organic and inspiring weddings and events for awesome people.” And since couple Benjamin Boso and Emerson Boyle opened Ampersand in 2014, in San Francisco’s hip gentrified Mission District, it’s been all that and then some. The Mission District is San Francisco’s oldest neighborhood, yet it boasts some of the city’s hottest restaurants, night spots and art galleries, as well as the largest concentration of street art and murals in the city – the perfect location for a trend-forward floral business.
The shop – almost a glorified garage spruced up with signature turquoise barn doors – sells flowers by the stem (most of which are California grown) and lets customers design their own arrangements if they choose. Boso and Boyle say that “the shop is a space for creativity, community and everything floral. We encourage folks to get their hands dirty and choose blooms per stem at an affordable price point.”
In addition to florals for weddings and events, Ampersand has a great walk-in business and has cultivated a strong weekly “corporate” account niche, delivering arrangements regularly to restaurants, offices, businesses and homes throughout the city.
Jason and Stephanie Braatz
Relatively new to the San Francisco floral scene – 2018 – Marigold is co-owned by two floral designers, Aubriana Kasper MacNiven and Gena Winter. With a focus on the organic and whimsical, the two source flowers and plants from nearby farms and the San Francisco Flower Mart. They do weddings and events as well as hand-tied bouquets and vase arrangements for all occasions and self purchase. MacNiven and Winter met while working at Natalie Bowen Designs in San Francisco. MacNiven left to open a flower studio, The Bloomerie Co., and hired Winter as an assistant. It was during that time that both ladies discovered they had the same dream – a
flower/coffee shop – and the Marigold partnership was born. In addition to their flowers, the pair’s distinctive 1,100-square-foot Mission District shop, with its high ceilings and natural light, has fast become a popular space to rent for parties and events. The space can comfortably accommodate around 50 people for a standing-room event; fewer for a seated event. MacNiven and Winter customize the
space for each client’s needs.
Teaching the art and business of floristry.
San Francisco’s floral scene is a unique one. And one piece of the scene that makes it especially singular is City College of San Francisco (CCSF), a nearly 80-year-old educational institution that’s trained more than 5,000 students in the business and art of floristry and horticulture. “What makes us unique is that we have a complete training program and offer a full selection of classes, from cut flower identification and care to wedding and event planning and business,” says Steven Brown, AIFD, chair of the Environmental Horticulture and Floristry Department at CCSF. Brown says the floristry and environmental horticulture tracks are separate at CCSF, but they go hand in hand. “In floristry, we give students a thorough well-balanced training in buying and selling floral products, the art of creating floral arrangements and operating various types of floral enterprises,” he says, noting that the floristry program currently has about 200 students enrolled. The horticulture program has about 250 students enrolled. “And in horticulture, we teach students to create environments that function practically, aesthetically and in harmony with nature. That includes growing the plants, designing the spaces and installing the landscapes.”
The department was established in 1935 as a way to offer training to folks working in the many floral shops of San Francisco. Though the number of those shops has dwindled over the years, the need for training in the field has remained strong. Brown says some students take courses for their own personal enjoyment while others are pursuing professional development or expanding their skills for their own floral design businesses. Students come largely from the Bay Area, but the program also attracts people from Japan, Korea and China.
Majors in the department include: floristry; commercial cut flower and greenhouse production; landscape gardening and contracting; and nursery and garden center operations. Certificates are offered in landscape construction, design and maintenance; commercial cut flower and greenhouse production; and nursery and garden center operations. There are seasonal floral classes in cut flower and plant identification, arranging and design, as well as business- focused classes. In addition, CCSF offers classes in ikebana, the ancient Japanese art of flower arranging. Its particular offerings are in the Sogetsu School of Ikebana. All classes are taught by AIFD-accredited instructors, which sets CCSF apart from other programs, of which there are fewer and fewer these days. “Our department has been very strong for many, many years,” Brown says, “and we’re planning to continue that legacy for a long time.”
Jason and Stephanie Braatz
Bringing art to life with flowers. Some are near-exact replicas made with the likes of lush white callas, orange chrysanthemums and long green grasses. Others are more abstract interpretations that use floral arrangements to elicit introspection, admiration and just plain awe. They are the floral exhibits that floral designers from around the Bay Area have been conjuring up for more than 35 years for the annual “Bouquets to Art” fundraiser for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Through the fundraiser, more than 100 floral designers compose floral arrangements inspired by the paintings, sculptures and architecture on display at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. Now a San Francisco institution itself and the progenitor of dozens of similar “art in bloom” events at other art museums across the country, “Bouquets to Art” has drawn nearly 800,000 visitors and raised more than $7 million over its 35-year history. Funds from the event help support special exhibitions, conservation projects and education programs at the de Young. The week long event finds flowers and floral designers taking over the museum’s galleries. Amid the floral and artistic beauty, the museum also hosts luncheons, presentations and impromptu discussions with world-renowned floral experts. The most recent iteration of “Bouquets to Art,” held June 4-9, featured an opening night gala, multiple luncheons and a benefit raffle. Speakers included Hitomi Gilliam, AIFD; Michael Daigian; Althea
Harampolis; and Max Gill. While it’s too early to share who will be part of “Bouquets to Art” 2020, the event is indeed already scheduled. It will run June 1-7, 2020, with the opening night gala set for June 1. Find out more at deyoung.famsf.org/bouquets-to-art.