The Strip District has long been known as the premier location in Pittsburgh for gourmet and specialty foods. Less well known –but just as important to the vitality of the area — are the flower businesses that dot the neighborhood. The Strip may not be as synonymous with its flower shops and flower wholesalers as its food retailers and produce vendors, but they are a large part of the history, fabric and future of the community.
The Strip’s floral industry features a range of shops, from a recently established upscale floral company to a family-owned business passed down through generations to a wholesaler supplying flowers throughout the region. The owners of these enterprises — Hens and Chicks, Blumengarten and Pittsburgh Cut Flower Company – all point to their location in the neighborhood as an integral part of their success.
Hens and Chicks
Hens and Chicks is the newest of the floral businesses. Started in Shadyside in 2011, the company moved to the 2700 block of Penn Avenue in 2014 into a space that features a sleek aesthetic with appropriate green flourishes. While the front of Hens and Chicks serves as a storefront and space for meeting clients, the rest of the building features a large work and prep area.
According to Nathan McCarthy, co-owner of Hens and Chicks with Thomas Cabral, the space was one of the catalysts for the move from Shadyside.
“We realized that it was important to have good visibility in an established neighborhood like Shadyside to start our business,” he explains. “However, as our business grew, it became increasingly important to have a larger work space, as well as to be much closer to our suppliers in the Strip.”
The Strip location also provides easy access to Downtown.
“Deliveries to Downtown, which previously would take 30 minutes round-trip, are now a matter of a few minutes,” says McCarthy.
The new location for Hens and Chicks has been key to increasing productivity for the business, which is becoming the go-to florist for weddings and events looking for a more ambitious approach.
“Our clients come to us not just for centerpieces and décor,” insists McCarthy, “but also rely on us to collaborate in conceptualizing their events and designing the room or event space from start to finish.”
Jim Ludwig’s Blumengarten
Around the block from Hens and Chicks is a flower shop with a longer history. Blumengarten is a family-owned business with origins that reach back to the 19th century when owner Jim Ludwig’s great-grandfather started the business in Allegheny City, now the North Side of Pittsburgh. Although there was a small break in the ownership of the business, the current iteration of Blumengarten has been in operation since 1929.
Given the shop's storied past, Ludwig is especially proud that he will be keeping Blumengarten in the family.
“I’m very happy to see that my son will be taking over from me,” says Ludwig. “[He] will be the fifth generation of Ludwigs in this business.”
Even though Blumengarten spent 70 years in the Koppers building Downtown (with a few suburban outposts), Ludwig is very happy with its current location in the Strip, where the business has been since the late 1990s.
“We wanted to have a free-standing facility that we could own,” explains Ludwig. While Blumengarten’s previous locations offered the benefit of more foot traffic, the company now does more than 95 percent of its business over the Internet or phone. The move also meant more space to create and store designs, and proximity to incoming flower arrivals.
Blumengarten is among the largest florists in Pittsburgh, allowing the company to buy direct from flower brokers and wholesalers. The business designs flowers for weddings and special events, as well as individual orders for holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, and other occasions.
Pittsburgh Cut Flower Company
A wholesale distribution business, Pittsburgh Cut Flower Company supplies flowers to places like Blumengarten and Hens and Chicks, but does not sell directly to consumers.
According to Company President Bob Luthultz, the key to the business is logistics: He needs to coordinate shipments of flowers in connection with the needs of his retailers. This includes getting the majority of his flowers imported into Pittsburgh. Most flowers are grown in South America and shipped to Miami the day they are cut. Once in Miami, the flowers must pass customs and are then shipped on a refrigerated truck to Steel City. From there, the staff is charged with distributing the flowers to various other businesses.
Pittsburgh Cut Flower Company is a large part of the history of the neighborhood and has been a fixture since 1950. When they moved to the Strip in the mid-20th century, the Strip almost exclusively housed terminals for the arrival and distribution of perishable goods. While the Strip still serves as a terminal for wholesalers, the neighborhood has evolved in dramatic ways over the last 50 years.
The Changing Strip
And in recent years, the Strip District has grown in even more surprising ways, emerging as a residential neighborhood. The flower proprietors have noticed and welcomed the change.
While McCarthy points to the ongoing construction in the area as one of the biggest changes, both Luthultz and Ludwig mention the increase in foot traffic. Blumengarten’s current location at 2650 Penn Avenue gets less foot traffic than previous locations, but Ludwig noted that the walking area is expanding out from the Strip toward the 2600 block.
Luthultz has also seen pedestrian traffic increase recently and enjoys the changing atmosphere of the neighborhood. More people are out at lunchtime during the workweek — he finds it exciting to be growing in such a vibrant part of the city.