Hortihop Local Partner Shop
Urban Garden Center
Dimitri & Sara
Name & Name
Who We Are
We're a family-run business that began in 1959 as a flower shop on the corner of 89th and Madison. Eventually, my grandfather opened up a garden center and then a series of smaller locations. After he passed on, my grandmother took over the business and then I co-managed it part time until I eventually took it over with my mother. Now, it's me, my dad, my brother, and my wife running it. Our current location opened to the public in 2010 after a series of calamities at previous locations (think a building falling on our greenhouse – twice). The space didn't even have running water at the start. It was a lot of work and dedication. Most people don't open up plant stores without running water!
What Inspires Us
Now, when I was a kid I hated going to the store – I hated the smell of fertilizer, having to deal with customers, the whole experience. But I realized later on that I had this real love for decorating. And I also really enjoyed being an entrepreneur and interacting with people, especially about something that makes them so happy: plants. When I was just starting out, every morning I'd get up at 12 in the morning, get in the truck, go to the plant market and shoot the breeze with the farmers to learn about plants, drop the plants off, set up the shop, go out to dinner, and then get up at 12 the next morning to start all over again. It was a labor of love. Young kids today know so much about plants, and it's super fascinating to watch and learn. We're enjoying it.
A Typical Workday
I usually start my day around 4 or 4:30. Sometimes I do a little reading or exercise or just prepare for whatever's going on that day. I end up at work during the busy season by about 5:30, latest 6:30. I do all the plant ordering and other paperwork. Before you know it, it's 8am and people are arriving and we just get moving. We're ordering from the indoor plant community, the outdoor plant guys, we've got the perennial orders, then the pottery, setting up merchandising, then coordinating and working jobs for homeowners and dealing with roof contractors. There are so many different moving parts and so many different people – it's fascinating!
Favorite Plant-Related Memory
When I was a kid, I lived in suburban New Jersey, but every day I went to a greek parochial school in Washington Heights. After school, I was either at my grandfather's store on 86th Street or I was picked up by my other grandparents and brought over to Woodside, Queens. One day, I must have been about 7 or 8 years old, I was walking around with a customer showing them around and I literally fell onto one of these big, round, wide cacti. I ended up having all these needles in my body. I'll never forget, they put me on the counter, stripped me down to my underwear, and had scotch tape pulling these things out of me. I don't know if that made me realize I'm gonna do this for a living or this is why I really hate this business.
#1 Plant Tip
Know your environment and how much time you have to dedicate to plant care. If you're in a bright, sunny room, there's a whole list of plants that will do well, but if you're a very busy person, maybe some of them aren't such a great idea if you don't have somebody helping you with plant care. The main thing about selling plants to a customer is know about the customer. On the topic of watering, I find people tend to overwater or water it improperly. The perfect way to water a plant is literally taking it out of the pot, giving it a good shower, going to work, and then putting it back in its pot so now it's drained out so you avoid root rot.
Best Life Advice
I think a happy life is being balanced. I definitely found myself very imbalanced for many years, and I've been very focused on creating balance. Balance is the key to everything, even the amount of plants you have in your apartment. If you have too many it becomes a job. Keeping my wife and kids happy has made me much happier. And doing things for yourself is important. It's good that the kids and everybody see that you love yourself.
Favorite Neighborhood Spots
I've gotten to know the owners in the neighborhood really well. I have a very close relationship with the people that own Armonie Pizza Restaurant, a beautiful family from Albania. There's an interesting relationship between Greek people and Albanians. Other good friend of mine are the Greek family that runs Sam's Pizzeria on the corner of 116th and Lexington. They have the best egg sandwich in the neighborhood. And Nestor, another good friend, owns El Kallejon on 117th between Lexington and 3rd. I also really like La Chula on 116th and Lex. For me, it's all about the owners and the staff – it's about enjoying good people and enjoying good food.