Where do bodega flowers come from?

- On an average week Nick Valenti sells 15,000 roses.

"We're selling to florists, grocery stores, bodegas, street vendors," he said.

Valenti owns Metropolitan Wholesale in Saddle Brook, New Jersey, and if you pass a bucketful of rose stems, tulips, or irises on a Manhattan street corner, chances are good they either arrived there via Nick's building on Midland Avenue or the warehouse of a competitor.

"The largest I would say would be [New York City Flower Market on] 28th Street in Manhattan," Valenti said, "but I'm very competitive against them because I don't pay the rents that they pay."

Metropolitan Wholesale's role in the tri-state area flower supply stems in part from an after-school job its owner held in high school.

"I got a part-time job as a florist when I was 15 years old, sweeping up a back room," Valenti said, "and I just stayed with the business through college."

 Valenti then ran his current store for another owner before buying it for himself five years ago and changing the business to focus on large shipments of 25 to 250 stems. This Valentine's Day, Metropolitan Wholesale sold 30,000 roses and 30,000 carnations, but Valenti expects that to rank as only his second-busiest day of the year.

"Believe it or not, Mother's Day is the Super Bowl," Valenti said.

From the 90-hour weeks leading up to the big flower holidays, through the slower months of the summer, Metropolitan Wholesale now peddles millions of stems a year, most of which leave a store with a customer within just four days of a picker removing it from the field.

"Overall, I would say the quality of bodega flowers has definitely increased, become more trendy," Valenti said.

Most of the world's wholesale flowers come from Colombia, Holland, or Ecuador. Middlemen like Valenti browse an online marketplace in search of the seller offering the best price, which fluctuates depending on the market's supply and the customer's ever-changing demands.

"Recently succulents have been tremendous," Valenti said.

Shop owners pick up their daily offerings either late at night or very early in the morning, driving the blossoms to their street corner of business and displaying them to lure us passers-by, who then bring them home without ever thinking about the New Jersey man whose dead flowers and blossoming business made this all possible.

"I would say about seven, eight years ago, it was rare to even see a garden rose," Valenti said. "Now they're in every order, every shipment."

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