I've lived in West Orange for almost six years now and my sense of the town is limited to my experience of the places I frequent each week. I have the mom-view of our town: storytime at the library; ShopRite; Degnan Park playground; Playhouse Nursery School; family events on the lawns of Town Hall and OSPAC.
But that is just one slice of West Orange. There is a West Orange I know nothing about.
For this column, I've decided to get to know West Orange through its businesses. And in just a week, what I’ve discovered is less about business than it is about history.
This week, I walked into AK Floral Designs, a Main Street business, just off the corner of Harrison Avenue. A small, well-kept and very sunny shop, the first thing I noticed was a table with two chairs, wedding flower books and an award, "2010 The Knot Pick Best of Weddings as voted by local brides."
I interviewed co-owner Aicha (pronounced "Asia") Grieco, who has been a floral designer for more than thirty years. Aicha told me that she and her partner, Kay Eom, have only owned the business for five or so years. They bought the business from the Freytag family, who had started and run the shop for two generations. Freytag’s was so entrenched in the community that people still call and ask for Freytag’s Flowers. Aicha and Kay have kept a website under that name, as well as their own.
Aicha, who is originally from Korea, moved to the United States in 1977. When she came to West Orange, she started designing at Crest Florist, another established West Orange floral shop that has been in business since 1964.
After leaving Crest, Aicha started and built several other floral shops, including two "Flowers by Aicha" shops in West Orange and Union, each of which she eventually sold because, she said, she was "just too busy."
After selling the second business, Aicha decided to retire. But, "after six months, I was bored, so I started to work again,” she said.
She met Kay, another floral designer and they formed a partnership. Now, Aicha says, she feels she has the right partner and the right size business. "With a partner you can take a day off, take a vacation. I could never do that before."
I came back to the shop the day they were doing arrangements for a wedding at the Highlawn Pavilion. The shop was fillled with fresh, beautiful flowers, most notably tall blue and pink Delphiniums, which had just come in from overseas, directly to the shop from the airport.
AK does lots of business locally with wedding venues, restaurants, funeral homes and supplies fresh flowers to the Farmer's Market on Main Street in Orange. Because they’re so established, Aicha said, they "get referrals from friends, grandparents, parents and friends" who have been customers of theirs or Freytag's for years.
Aicha has been in town for a long time. "I know everyone in West Orange," she says.
That's when I realized that I certainly don't. There is a whole network of people here who know each other and have for a long time. Their history together makes up the history of West Orange.
I'm a newcomer. And most of the people I know here are new-ish, like me — city transplants with little kids. Until this interview, I had never gone to AK Floral Designs before.
That's okay. Aicha hadn’t heard of Patch yet, either.
Remember: Mother's Day is this Sunday. Shop locally and stop by and see Aicha and Kay and their beautiful shop.
AK Floral Designs is located on 431 Main Street, West Orange, NJ 07052. They can be reached by calling (973) 325 - 2323.