This time of year, Kris Olsen and his sister, Andrea Hanulec, are usually going full speed at Homeside Florist & Greenhouses in Riverhead, gearing up for Easter and Mother’s Day.
But this winter was a little different. The landmark garden center shut its doors Dec. 31.
“I slept like a baby this winter,” Mr. Olsen joked during an interview at his sister’s home. “This would usually be go time.”
The Olsen family has owned the business since 1954, adding a new retail center and greenhouses along the way.
This would have marked their 65th year in business.
The siblings each found a niche in the business, with Mr. Olsen overseeing the growing and wholesale operations, while Ms. Hanulec handled the florist and retail center. They took over operations several years ago, after their father, Ernest, retired.
When he passed away last fall, the family took time to re-evaluate, ultimately making the tough decision to close the business.
In the 1950s, the business was mostly selling cut flowers — carnations, snapdragons, mums — to markets in New York City and beyond. “He loved flowers,” Ms. Hanulec said, remembering her father.
Reminiscing about his decades in business, they recalled how Ernest could easily spend hours talking with customers, answering questions and showing them around the sprawling four-acre property. “He’d speak to them to the point where he’d lose his voice,” Ms. Hanulec said.
Mr. Olsen, 61, cited rising overhead costs, such as heating the greenhouses, as a reason for shutting their doors. “This was my dad’s dream,” he said. “But times are changing.”
He isn’t going to retire just yet, however. Mr. Olsen spoke excitedly about starting a new job as a grower at Kurt Weiss Greenhouses in Center Moriches, which was ranked fourth on a list of the top 100 greenhouse growers nationwide in 2017.
“I always wanted to do it but felt a responsibility … I’m intimidated, but at the same time very excited,” he said.
Whether it was the happiest or most difficult day of someone’s life, Ms. Hanulec took pride in the bouquets and arrangements she created. “You got exposed to a lot of different customs and traditions,” she recalled, adding that she learned the most important part of the job was listening to each client’s vision — even if a bride demands gardenias in July.
Despite the changes, Ms. Hanulec, 66, expressed gratitude that she can now spend time with her family and explore creative hobbies, such as quilting, without feeling guilty for being away from the business.
“Never in my life did I not work a holiday,” she said, adding that she looks forward to being able to attend church on Easter Sunday.
The siblings agreed that the people — both customers and employees — are what they’ll miss most. “We’ve had a lot of loyal customers,” Ms. Hanulec said, welling up with emotion.
Some employees, Mr. Olsen noted, had worked with them for 20 years or more. “That weighs really heavily on you when you make a decision,” he said.
Despite closing the business, he’s inspired by the farms that have cropped up in recent years. “Agriculture is shifting, but still very much alive,” he said optimistically.
Though he’d love to see the property preserved as open space, the location at the corner of Main Road and County Road 105 is valuable. It’s now on the market for $3.5 million, with brokers touting the property as “The Most Desired Centralized Location For All Eastern L.I. Tourism Hotspots.”
Photo caption: Homeside Florist located on Route 58 and Route 105 had been in business for more than 60 years. (Tara Smith)