Flower Day — Detroit's holiday — for vendors, crowds

James David Dickson
The Detroit News
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Detroit — Fifty-one years in and Flower Day still keeps the crowds pouring into Detroit's Eastern Market.

Preston Smith, 5, of Southfield eats a strawberry while being pulled in a wagon by his mom, Leslie Smith at Flower Day 2018 at Eastern Market in Detroit on Sunday.

The traffic on Interstate 75 backs up a mile from the Mack exit, red brake lights far as the eye can see.

Thousands of Michiganians filled five sheds and clogged the streets as well, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, looking to find and buy their haul or to get it home and get to planting.

The Delisi family, of Delisi Greenhouse in Yale, has been a part of Flower Day since the first one in May 1967, two months before the riot that the city is still recovering from decades later. On Sunday, the tradition was carried out by brothers Vincent Delisi, 49, the boss, and Phil Delisi, 39.

"(Flower Day) is a holiday around here," Phil said between helping customers.

For Delisi Greenhouse, Flower Day carries more than just a sentimental importance. It's an essential part of the business, worth the 1 a.m. trek from Yale, worth renting eight stalls and paying 12 workers for the day.

"This is twice as big as any Saturday," Phil Delisi said.

"It's the bulk of my money" in the flower part of the business, Vincent Delisi said, which is one-third of the greenhouse's overall business. "Even if I were to ever downsize, we would never give up Flower Day."

If anything, the Delisi footprint at Flower Day has expanded, from two stalls just a few years ago, to four last year and up to eight on Sunday. While eight workers were enough last year, this year 12 were needed.

The character of Detroit, and its demographics, have changed considerably in the 51 years of Flower Day's existence, and even more so since the Delisi family started selling at Eastern Market.

Succulents and many flowers and plants during Flower Day 2018 at Eastern Market in Detroit.

Sunday's crowd represented the demographics of Metro Detroit, from the rural farmers to urban dwellers to suburban visitors, from babies in strollers to elderly people in wheelchairs, spanning every creed and color, all making their way to the event for one of three reasons: buy, sell, or people-watch.

Buyers stood in long lines at ATMs, cart rental tables, and food trucks. Some dragged carts of plants — and sometimes plants and children — behind them or pushed them ahead. Undeterred by a Sunday that was more coolly humid than warmly pleasant, they came to spend money.

Flower Day falls on the Sunday between Mother's Day and Memorial Day weekend, which, for gardeners, is usually the point of the year in Michigan when they can expect there won't be any more frost during until next winter.

One vendor took a unique approach Sunday, offering not flower or plant starters, but organic seeds.

Nature and Nurture Seeds is a 112-acre farm in the Ann Arbor area that sells seeds of plants that are ideal for growing in the climate of Michigan and other Great Lakes states. Owners Mike Levine and Erica Kempter, both 45, believe the quality of the seeds matter and the story behind them matter. "Seeds for the Midwest" is the business' tagline.

"Without the story, you don't know what it's good for," Levine said. And so information on where the seeds were sourced, and what they're meant for, is as important as tips on how to properly plant and tend to their growth, he said.

"A lot of people don't know how to cook anymore," Levine said. "A lot of people don't know how to save seeds anymore. We try to help."

Sisters Jessica and Sara Samples came out from the Ann Arbor area for the day. They were pushing a three-level cart down Alfred Street that Jessica Samples hand-built for just such an occasion. Citronella plants, which ward off mosquitoes, along with vegetables and mint, took up most of the cart, and they weren’t done for the day.

In the decade or so they've been patronizing Flower Day, they've seen the streets crowded with more shoppers, and have noticed a "brighter, happier atmosphere" than in years past. Another pleasant addition to the experience: Food trucks.

Vincent Delisi, who has been taking part in Flower Day since childhood, noted the improved atmosphere as well.

"It's night and day different than it was in the 80s or 90s, in terms of security," Delisi said. "Yesterday the police had a mounted unit out — it'll probably be back today, too."

When the sisters were asked what they were most excited about from their haul, Jessica Samples, who drove and built the cart, spoke up: "I can't say, because I'm not done yet."

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