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100+ Things: A Valentine's Day visit to the florist

On Valentine's Day, it's time for a treat. Winter-weary Western New Yorkers owe it to ourselves to go to a flower shop.

It doesn't have to be for romantic reasons. You can choose flowers for family, friends or simply yourself. And you don't have to break the bank. A single bloom can do the trick.

"I can't tell you how many customers come in once a week, usually older men, just to get their wives a single flower. They just plan it into their week," said Liz Reinhardt of Brighton Eggert Florist. Reinhardt owns the shop with her husband, rocker Tom Reinhardt, whose parents established it in the 1960s.

"You don't have to get a great big bouquet to make a statement," Liz Reinhardt added. "One flower, just because, is a great idea."

Matter of fact, you really don't have to buy anything. You are going to that flower shop for reasons more deep-rooted.

Ninety percent of Maureen's flowers come from Ecuador and Colombia. The rest come from California and Canada. Roses are always a favorite, especially on Valentine's Day. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

In a flower shop, it is always summer. That Valentine's Day visit gives you that sweet whiff of the promise of spring.

In Maureen's Wholesale Flower Market, an emporium downtown at 441 Ellicott St., the sheer size of the place can make for powerful therapy.

"Very often, people come in to wander around, and experience fresh flowers in a warehouse environment," said proprietor Maureen Bartley.

Push open the heavy door of Maureen's, and a humid greenhouse aroma embraces you. The slushy street, visible through the big front windows, is mercifully only a memory.

Delivery man Joseph Stiglmeier takes some arrangements to the van. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

The 19th century edifice Maureen's occupies used to be a meat-packing warehouse. It served the Washington Market, which once sat across the street, next to St. Michael's Church. When Maureen and her flowers moved in 20 years ago, the buildings were long boarded up. Now, such desolation is hard to imagine.

You may have heard the saying, "Bloom where you're planted." That is what Maureen's has done.

Behind the scenes, brick-walled secret spaces you do not see are brimming with vast collections of vases, boxes, ribbons, glitter sprays, glassware, containers, baskets and other accouterments that could only have accumulated organically over decades.

The cavernous shop is similarly overflowing. The antique tables, the paintings on the walls, the buckets of flowers, everything illustrates an old-fashioned bohemian vibe. Strings of lights soften the look of the industrial ceilings. Old lamps sparkle with crystal beads. Hand-painted wooden signs dangle over buckets of blooms.

A bouquet from Maureen's Buffalo Wholesale Flower Market is ready to be delivered. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Like all good flower shops, Maureen's wages a genteel war against the hassles of contemporary life.

"We will gladly assist you when you are finished with your cell phone conversation," reads a sign by the front counter.

Life runs according to the floral clock, and an ordinary February weekday bloomed with business. Trucks were pulling into the loading zone, awaiting flowers bound for churches and hospitals. An elegant woman was selecting flowers for a funeral. Staffers were assembling bouquets to grace the tables of the Buffalo Club and the Garret Club, following a day-by-day schedule florists surely followed in the McKinley administration.

In a table in the front window, Ashley Pokorski was trimming and arranging flowers, as snowflakes drifted down outside.

"A guy wanted a bouquet for his girlfriend, who is retiring after 30 years," she said.

Maureen's Buffalo Wholesale Flower Market employee Ashley Pokorski makes a bouquet. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Maureen had back-to-back appointments all day with brides planning their wedding flowers. Conferences take place at a beautifully weather-beaten wooden table, next to a tree adorned with thank-you cards from happy customers. Everyone sits on chairs covered with, of course, flowered pillows.

Courtney Rust was there with her fiance, Nick Batson. Coming to Maureen's was his idea.

"I come here all the time to buy roses for her," he said, smiling into her eyes.

Bartley sits with Nick Batson and his fiancee Courtney Rust, who are looking for bouquets and boutonnieres for their September wedding. Batson has been a regular customer at Maureen’s buying roses for Rust on different occasions. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Picture a garden in August, blooming and bounteous, soaked in fragrance, buzzing with bees and cicadas. That is what this place is like. You will vanish into it the way folks in fairy tales vanish into forests.

Most of the flowers, Maureen said, are shipped from Ecuador and Colombia, via Miami. Others come from Canada and California. They came a long way to get to us, so enjoy them. Tiptoe through the tulips. Wallow in the lavender liatris, baby's breath, cyclamen, iris, orchids, roses, anthurium -- also known as flamingo flower -- gorgeous Gerber daisies, and beautiful blue delphinium.

Bliss out.

"It's always a happy thing," is how Liz Reinhardt, of Brighton Eggert Florist, describes the mystique of flowers. "There are funerals, of course, and I'm along with the families -- I shed tears with them," she reflected.

"But the rest is all happiness."

*Read last week's entry from 100+ Things, on the Buffalo Zoo in winter:

100+ Things: The Buffalo Zoo gleams in winter

Email: mkunz@buffnews.com

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