Tag Archives: Bill Curry

Plant sales honor beloved local florist

10 Jun

Note: This story was published in “The Village Beat” in June 2011. I’m recording it here, however, because the site will no longer be live once this internship ends. Here’s Bill Curry and Cornell Edwards’ story:

In a bittersweet tribute to a local florist’s life, his partner has raised close to $4500 through the sale of his plants to locals who revered him as an active, kindhearted member of the community.

Cornell Edwards died suddenly on March 29 due to a stroke, and for the last seven weeks, Bill Curry has opened the doors of the Flower Stall on 143 East 13 St. to accept donations for the plants to go towards one of the pair’s favorite causes: the Seneca Village Restoration Project.

Started in the 1820’s, the Seneca Village was Manhattan’s first community of African American landowners. Short-lived due to the construction of Central Park, there have been efforts ever since to rehabilitate the community. Edwards was very passionate about this project.

“Cornell was an advisor on the board for the Seneca Village,” Curry said. “He was very involved. Anything he was part of, he was not passive.”

Also involved the community board in the seventies as well as heading up the housing committee, Edwards’ role in the community was admired.

“Cornell was a lovely, gentle person with a good sense of humor who truly enjoyed being around people, and that was evident due to his community involvement,” customer Diana Wall said.

As Curry slowly lets Edwards’ plants go, he finds comfort in the fact that “the plants are being converted into something substantial.”

The shop, an eclectic mix of things the pair had purchased together over their 50 years of partnership, was a staple in their neighborhood and brought locals together.

“Cornell’s flower shop was one of the few places that anchored the neighborhood as a place of neighbors,” long-time customer Claire Moed said.

As locals make generous donations in honor of a beloved community member, the future of the shop has come into question.

“As I sell plants, I’m really throwing [Cornell] away piece by piece,- again- but I can’t take care of all this,” a tearful Curry said.

Curry, who still evokes deep emotion when discussing the passing of his partner, is currently looking for a tenant who will bring something unique to the Village and do some good for the community.

“[Whatever business goes here] has to be something that can contribute to the community,” he said. “I want to find something that would carry on Cornell’s vision.”

As Curry works tirelessly to sort papers, sell plants and keep the shop running, locals have been contributing in the form of donations as well as spending time in the shop and helping Curry out.

“I come in here all the time,” Moed said. “He was a neighbor. I don’t think people understand that word today. I mean neighbors, like, who know your kids and care about your family and have your extra set of keys. That’s what we are.”

While Curry opens the shop each Saturday to continue his sales, locals realize the end of the Flower Stall era may be near.

“This is a rare New York store,” Moed said. “And once it’s closed, there’s not another New York store like it.”

Tell me your story. Don’t leave out any details.

1 Jun

So, I blogged about the flower shop on my street a few days ago. As it turns out, my teachers thought the story was a great find so I went further with it.

Today, I went back to The Flower Stall with one of my professors for a follow up interview and to take some more photos.

The store wasn’t open, but we found Bill’s (the owner) door and rang the doorbell. (In a non-creepy way, don’t worry.) He finally answered, and after some awkward yelling back and forth from the third floor of the building to the sidewalk, he came down and opened the shop so we could talk.

This has to have been one of the best follow ups ever. Let me tell you…

A customer admires a photograph of Cornell Edwards, and told me her personal stories about the influential man.

To start, no amount of words can accurately describe The Flower Stall’s interior. At first glance, it’s cluttered, messy and disorganized, but once you enter the building, the clutter and disorganization vanish and a tale of a 50-year long romance unfolds. Each and every article in the store has a story, and Bill would love to share every single one of them.

The purpose of me returning to the shop was to ask some more in-depth questions. I needed to get information that I had overlooked in the first interview, and, most importantly, I needed to find out the status of the future of the shop.

As we began to talk, Cornell’s death was brought up. I won’t lie, I was reluctant to ask details about it in the first interview because I could see the pain on Bill’s face.

Anyway, it was brought up and Bill told the entire story. He discussed Cornell’s stroke, the attempts at rehabilitation and his ultimate death. Bill was so choked up the entire time. The pain was real and raw- true emotion- exactly the type of emotion attached to a worthwhile story.

We went on to talk with Bill for another hour or so, and he continued to tell stories of Cornell’s life, people’s reactions to his death and his future plans for the store. (Which include something involving a non profit organization, hopefully.)

Once again, I left The Flower Stall with a new lesson learned. Sometimes, pain is inevitable. People feel pain. It’s a real emotion, and I’m going to encounter it as a journalist.

I’ve been told before that as a journalist, you become people’s therapist, shoulder to cry on, person to vent to and everything in between.

Today, I realized that was the absolute truth as Bill began to heal a bit more while telling me his 50-year journey with the man who stole his heart.

Finding community in “The Big Apple”

28 May

Here’s my big adventure of the day. (For a journalism nerd, this will be so exciting. For the rest of the world- mildly intriguing, but here we go.)

I have to do a story for Sunday on a street vendor, so today I set out in search of that one spectacular food cart that would catch my eye.

Yeah, didn’t happen.

All of the vendors were either too busy, in a tough location or didn’t even kind of speak English. Just as I was getting frustrated and wondering what my odds were of finding an American food vendor, I stumbled (yes, literally stumbled. I tripped. Story of my life) in front of this little plant shop called The Flower Stall.

143 E. 13th Street- The Flower Stall

Let me describe this place to you: it was small, over crowded, cluttered and messy- but so perfect. I could tell right when I walked in the door that this place had some history to it. I approached an elderly man sitting on a stool who I assumed was the owner. I asked if I could cover his shop for a story I was writing, and without skipping a beat, this man (named Bill) wove me the story of the birth of The Flower Stall.

Owned by his life partner, Cornell, The Flower Stall has been a staple in East Village (particularly, 13th Street) for nearly 45 years. Cornell had purchased the shop on a whim in 1967 and proceeded to learn all he could about plants in order to be a good shop owner. He became one of the best.

Unfortunately, Cornell had passed away almost 2 months ago, so Bill is manning the store until the final plants are taken.

What’s unique about this, however, is that the plants are not simply being sold. Instead, Bill is accepting donations (in check or money order only. He was very adamant about that.) for the reconstruction of Seneca Village. This is a village created by African American property owners in the 1820’s, and was soon taken over by the creation of Central Park. Cornell was very passionate about this project, so all donations are being made in his honor.

As if this story wasn’t already interesting enough, I noticed the neighborly camaraderie between Bill and every single customer that walked in. Everyone knew one another by name and it wasn’t uncommon for people to stop by to simply catch up with Bill. In the 2 hours I spent there, there had to have been at least 30 people in and out of the store.

I talked to numerous customers and they all said the same thing: the Flower Stall is a neighborhood staple and they wouldn’t trade it for the world. Everyone was devastated by Cornell’s death, and he was referred to as the “watchdog of the neighborhood.”

You can find Bill in this chair every Saturday from noon til 6. He mans the store with help from Tonya, the shop cat.

There were pictures, letters, notes and cards all in remembrance of Cornell, and Bill along with some locals told me story after story of Cornell’s selflessness and dedication to the neighborhood.

I left The Flower Stall with a new outlook on life in the city. I had begun to think it was impossible to be part of a community that close with a “New York mentality,” but the people in and out of that shop proved me wrong.

As one customer, Claire, said, “We’re all neighbors. I don’t think people understand that word today. I mean neighbors- like- who know your kids and care about your family and have your extra set of keys. That’s what we are.”

It was truly amazing to see the difference one man had on his community, and through stories and photographs, I feel as if I truly knew Cornell.

Today was a huge step for me in bridging the gap between being a summer tourist and student to a true East Villager.

As I left the shop, Claire said “Thanks, Catey! I’ll see you around! Oh..and welcome home.” She then caught herself and said “I don’t know where that came from! I mean welcome to the city!”

No Claire, you were right the first time. East Village is beginning to feel more and more like home each day.