Tension blooms over Flower Mart closure

Florists and their supporters gathered among freshly cut bouquets at the San Francisco Flower Mart in the city’s South of Market neighborhood today to protest a new building developer who has not guaranteed their lease extensions.

Protesters held signs reading slogans such as “Support Local Growers and Farmers” and “Flower Power” today, expressing fears that their leases at the Flower Mart would not be renewed once they expire in December.

Patrick McCann, the owner of Greenworks, located in the Flower Mart at 575 Sixth St. was among the florists, small business owners and public officials who spoke out against Kilroy Realty Corporation’s reported plans to decommission the wholesale Flower Mart.

McCann said over 100 flower vendors operate out of the market, many since the market opened in 1956. The properties that make up the Flower Mart are in the process of switching owners and vendors at the Flower Mart are concerned they will be moved out to make room for tech companies.

According to 92-year-old florist Albert Nalbandian, his father started shopping at the Flower Mart in 1915, when it was just a group of growers selling their flowers to florists downtown at Lotta’s Fountain, at the intersection of Geary and Market streets.

Nalbandian said every morning he would go with his father to Lotta’s market to buy flowers for the day. A larger market was created in 1924 at Fifth and Howard streets and then the need for more space led to the construction of the Flower Mart at its current location, according to the Flower Mart’s website.

Today, Nalbandian owns the I. Magnin Flower Stand, which is run from the corner of Stockton and Geary streets:

“We’ve spent as much time in the market here as we have in our own homes.”

Among the public officials who attended today’s meeting and expressed their desires to see the Flower Mart saved, were former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos, San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim and former California State Senator Quentin Kopp.

Agnos said high-tech development has residents worried that they will be shut out of residential neighborhoods and that is now spreading to commercial areas:

“The whole city cannot be just for programmers.”

Agnos said the Flower Mart is a historic place in the city that developers are building up for tech jobs and trying to kick out “jobs that diversify our economy and don’t make us a one industry city, dependent only on high-tech.”

Kim, who represents the South of Market neighborhood, said the Flower Mart is an “institution” that represents so many jobs and small businesses in the city. She said she will work to “ensure the long-term vibrancy of the flower market.”

The Kilroy Realty Corporation did not respond to calls this afternoon regarding their plans for the property that currently holds the Flower Mart.