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SOUTH END

For wholesale market, a thorn among the roses

At the Boston Flower Exchange, where spring blooms through the darkest days of winter, wholesalers at the century-old market spent last week revving up for Valentine's Day.

They plucked roses, primped Gerbera daisies, and filled buckets with everything from tulips to birds of paradise, all for the florists and other retailers allowed inside the large warehouse on Albany Street. (Because the wholesalers don't charge sales tax, customers must be certified as commercial buyers representing a retail business related to the floral industry.)

The wholesalers shied away from discussing their profit margins, but consumers probably won't find the prices changed much from last year, when the average price for a dozen arranged roses was $72.40, said Jenny Stromann, a spokeswoman for the Society of American Florists in Alexandria, Va.

At Winston Flowers, which has seven stores in the Boston area, a box (or vase) of a dozen roses will cost $100, the same price as the past two years, said Alicia Germano, the florist's marketing director.

The holiday's notoriously inflated prices for flowers, however, hasn't brought joy to at least one of the market's 17 merchants.

Pat Riccardi, of Riccardi Wholesale Flowers, complained about being squeezed by everyone from growers to the airlines to national chain stores.

A box of flowers he may import from Colombia, the Netherlands, or Israel now often costs three times what it did a year ago, the result of new homeland security fees and rising freight charges set by the airlines, which are passing along their increased fuel costs, Riccardi said.

The exchange, which opened in 1892, is one of only a few of its kind left in the nation. It used to house 25 wholesalers, but that doesn't mean the place is in a state of decline, Riccardi said.

Despite the pressures, he and others said there's reason for hope, reason even to think a renaissance may be in store for an institution that has long been an island in a sea of construction:

The Big Dig's just about done.

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