“The last 13 years have not been easy,” says Joe Rizzo of Langdon Florist, which has been on Reade Street—with different owners and at two addresses—for 68 years. There was 9/11, of course, but also the building nearby that collapsed, the constant construction, the recurring “Law & Order” invasions…. But Rizzo does his best to roll with it. “Business is like the weather,” he says. “Some days it’s bad, and some days it’s good. But it’s always a new adventure.”
How did you get started in this business?
When I was nine years old, I started working at cousin’s flower shop in Brooklyn. I made deliveries, filled water tubes—I was a gofer. Over the years, at holidays, because it was a family-run business, I was recruited to help. He offered me a job after high school, so I took it. I worked for him till I was about 25 years old. My friends Howie and Billy had had this shop, Langdon Florist—which was established in 1947—for a good 15 years, and they sold it to me for a nice amount of money. We used to be at 57 Reade, where the lobby of the new building is now. We moved across the street about 20 years ago.
How has your business changed over the years?
Years ago, before this was Tribeca, it was City Hall. I used to run the shop five days a week—I was off weekends. Here I was, 25 years old, running my own business. It was fantastic! The shoebox was full of cash. The workforce was strong—and then Bloomberg shipped 8,000 workers to Long Island City. That was my walk-in trade. The shoebox isn’t full anymore! It used to be that customer volume was high and costs were low. Now it’s the opposite. Everything is through the roof. And everybody uses credit cards.
What are you known for?
Quality. I still pride myself on doing things the old-fashioned way. I tell people all the time to come in and see what we have. It’s better than any website. And I like to be known for being fair—like we say in Italian, abbondanza! Abundance.
What’s the most satisfying part of what you do?
Oh, when people say how beautiful things are. We’re a luxury. No one has to come in and buy flowers. So it’s important to make people happy.
Most popular item?
We sell a lot of roses. But it changes every day. You don’t know day by day. I didn’t know Duane Street Hotel would come in today wanting orchids and plantings for the outside.
Weddings can be expensive. We work with every budget. Women come in with eyes wide open. I put something together, and they say that’s out of my budget. I always say, what creates the budget is the flowers you choose.
We sell plants for $5. Geraniums, green plants. Succulents for $7.95. And we sell cut flowers—you could come in and choose one peony or ten.
Where do you source stuff?
Holland, California, locally…. Wildflowers from New Jersey, Delaware, North Carolina. Cherry blossoms from the south. Once it gets hot here, local flowers disappear. Then we move into dahlias, zinnias, Jersey sunflowers….
Tribeca has obviously changed a lot. Any changes that have surprised you?
I’ve seen the change coming. It’s finally getting better for me—the residents are crossing over Church. It used to be there was no reason to walk on Reade. Every Saturday, there are more and more people out strolling. They’ll come in and ask how long we’ve been here—they say they had no idea. And they’ll have lived on W. Broadway for five years.
Tell me a crazy customer story.
This one lady…. This was insane! She called up and said she had mold on her potted plants. I said bring ‘em by. There were a few fruit flies! But she was wearing a surgical mask and big rubber gloves. I mean, it was this gas mask thing. We let her have a sink and she scrubbed the plants. That was a weird one. Hey, we made her happy.
What does the future hold for Langdon Florist?
I’ve been doing this for 30 years. After that long, you get known—a lot of the businesses comes from repeat clients and referrals. I could take it anywhere—not that I’m going anywhere. But you never know.
Photographs by Claudine Williams, who specializes in head shots for actors, business professionals, or anyone looking to be photographed.