In my mind, it's no coincidence that the tradition of giving flowers at Valentine's Day coincides with the dreary winter weather that pummels much of the country in February. While battling the cold and snow, flowers are a colorful and necessary reminder that if we can just make it through the snowstorms and chilly temperatures, the warmth of spring will be our reward.
And while this floral shot in the arm can be had at many florists from state to state, I have yet to find a florist shop as jaw-droppingly dramatic in its midcentury glamour than Stein Your Florist in the Mayfair neighborhood of Philadelphia.
Looking as if a spaceship has landed at a busy traffic intersection, Stein Your Florist (as it is officially known) was started by the Stein family in 1886, a half century earlier than its Midcentury Modern exterior would imply.
While the Stein family name is prominent both in advertising and on the iconic neon sign out front, the business is owned by Patrick Kelly, who began working for Joseph and Celia Stein in 1981. Still a family-run affair, Kelly runs the shop along with his wife Janet and their two daughters Jennifer and Jessica, and considers them to be the caretakers of a local tradition.
"We have many longstanding repeat customers," says Kelly, who takes that responsibility seriously and stays open 7 days a week, 365 a year. "We know when there's a birth, an anniversary, if someone is sick, or there's a wedding -- we're there for them at every milestone."
One of the traditions Kelly and his family are most proud of is the Modernist exterior that looks wonderfully out of place (did someone say from outer space?) alongside the rows of brick homes lining the busy thoroughfare. This steel-and-glass exoskeleton, added in 1950, wraps itself around the front of the traditional twin building like a hug.
Designed by architect George W. Neff, the large angled windows allow sunlight to flood the interior, creating a greenhouse-like environment year-round. The Kellys also insist on maintaining the period neon signage, which glows during the day and lights up the corner at night.
Though the interior of the building was ravaged by a horrific fire in the winter of 2001, some evidence of the smart design of that 1950s expansion remains. The curved stone staircase that transitions from the public space to the original home (now used as a bridal and interior design consulting space) remains, as does the interior waterfall and slate floors with built-in drains.
Not only is the slate natural (and fire resistant) but it also doesn't get slippery when watering plants. The water that runs off of the plants goes directly into the drains, allowing the slate floor to dry quickly between waterings.
The Kelly family also prides itself in bringing this traditional business into the 21st century with a number of modern touches. While the Steins designed the 1950s addition to be strong enough to add another level of greenhouse atop it, the Kelly family has instead planted a "green roof" on top, creating an organic and natural insulation barrier.
They've also been one of the first floral shops to embrace the online video age, creating original videos highlighting causes that are important to them, or simply showing the fun side of the flower business (like this "Gangnam Style" video filmed at the shop and starring Patrick and his family.)
Like a crocus pushing itself through the snow to remind us of simple beauty, the glowing neon of Stein's at the intersection of Frankford Ave. and Princeton is a reminder of the beauty that can exist right around the corner if someone cares enough to honor it, like the Kelly family does.
Visit Stein Your Florist
7059 Frankford Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19135
The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.