The Valley’s last floral distributor has closed — what that means for local flower shops

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The Mahoning Valley’s last floral distributor closed in December, leaving several local flower shops wondering how they’ll source fresh product without paying more for shipping, or continue fulfilling same-day orders.

Youngstown Plant & Flower Inc., 150 W. Rayen Ave., closed Dec. 3, after 74 years in business. The company supplied several Mahoning Valley florist shops with large quantities of flowers like roses and azaleas for customers to buy on the same day. Now, local florists must rely on distributors in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and North Canton for fresh flowers, which are unlikely to last more than a few days, they said.

Youngstown State University bought the more than 9,600-square-foot, campus-adjacent building for $235,000, a price based on an appraisal last year, said YSU spokesperson Ron Cole. The university used local funds, rather than capital funds, he said.

YSU trustees approved the purchase in June, and the deal was finalized Nov. 1, according to a deed filed with the Mahoning County Recorder’s Office. Since the building was purchased for the university’s use, the transaction was tax-exempt, Cole said.

The university plans to use the building to house its various engineering student teams that vie in competitions like Steel Bridge, Concrete Canoe and Baja Car, he said.

Mahoning Matters reached Youngstown Plant & Flower’s owner Bob LaCivita by phone this week, but he said he was unavailable to comment.

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Joe Mozzy, owner of Sweet Arrangements Florist Inc. in Youngstown, said Youngstown Plant & Flower was his store’s main supplier. He said the university tried buying the building in the past but was never successful.

YSU sought to buy the West Rayen Avenue property and expand its footprint at least as far back as 2007, according to Vindicator archives.

The family of former owner Hank Belszek told the newspaper that year they didn’t have the resources to fight an eminent domain claim, and moving the business to a suburban area would likely have meant higher water bills, they said.

At that time, Youngstown Plant & Flower supplied more than 125 florists in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys, sourcing plants and flowers from as far as South America and Europe, the newspaper reported.

“Between YSU wanting to take it over and [one of the owners] wanting to get out of it, they just decided to sell it to YSU,” Mozzy said. “They were going to move, and the costs that were going to be involved in the move and moving all of the coolers. … It just wasn’t going to be feasible.”

Mozzy told Mahoning Matters when the coronavirus pandemic hit, Youngstown Plant & Flower halted deliveries and started to lose employees.

“They suspended all of their deliveries because they had some older drivers. … When COVID hit, they all quit,” he said.

Mozzy said he and many other local florists relied on the distributor for daily supply. Since it closed its doors, local shops have struggled to provide fresh flowers for their customers.

“There were times we would go up there three or four times a day, and now, we just don’t have that capability anymore,” Mozzy said.

Mozzy said now that there are no local floral suppliers in the area, he has decided to retire, after 41 years in business.

“When he decided he wasn’t going to move, [it made] business in our area much more difficult for floral shops because you’re still able to get everything, but it’ll be on a day’s notice,” he said.

Janice Pettola, owner of From the Heart Floral & Gift in Canfield, said her business had to make major changes to daily flower sales when Youngstown Plant & Flower called it quits.

“When we needed something — like someone wants a dozen roses for the same day — we had the luxury of telling our driver to run down to [Youngstown] Plant and grab them, and we don’t have that anymore,” she said.

Pettola said her shop bought from Youngstown Plant & Flower for 15 years. Now it relies on distributors from Pittsburgh and Cleveland, which means they have to order a day or two in advance, pay more for delivery and they don’t know when to expect those deliveries.

“Sometimes [distributors] come at … 7 [a.m.] and we’re not here, so now I have to give them a key to my business, which I’m not happy about,” Pettola said.

“I have a lot of flowers ... and I don’t have room to put them all in the cooler, and they get bad fast so I have to throw them away,” she later added.

Ann Marie Velchek, owner of Blooming Crazy Flowers and Gifts in Youngstown, said her business has relied on Youngstown Plant & Flower much during its 45 years. Just before the COVID-19 pandemic, another floral wholesaler in Columbiana County also closed, she said.

Velchek said she’s worried about Valentine’s Day, when customers often expect to be able to purchase roses that same day.

“We were always running down there [on Valentine’s Day], and that will be a whole different thing for us now,” she said. “We’re going to have to try and get our customers to realize, if you want something special, we have to know a couple of days in advance.”

A representative of another Youngstown flower shop — who spoke to Mahoning Matters by phone this week but declined to be named in this article — called the closure “a big blow to Youngstown.”

Whereas bulk carnations cost just under 40 cents per stem through Youngstown Plant & Flower, they cost nearly 70 cents per stem this past holiday season through out-of-town distributors, which can command a different price, she said.

“Between the non-availability, the quality and the price, it’s not a good signal for florists in the area,” she said.

Velchek said Youngstown Plant & Flower had the best prices around.

“We have to be able to have a second choice. We’re trying to keep more things in the shop. Our flower deliveries are every day from multiple places. Since we’re missing them, we have to have backup,” she said.

“If there is something special, we’ve actually driven to Pittsburgh to get it if we had to, which is a big deal. We’ll go above and beyond for our customers.”

This story was originally published January 5, 2022 4:00 AM.

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