It didn’t seem like Harold and Larry Hoogasian were going to take up the family business, floristry. The brothers, exactly three years apart in age (both were born on Bastille Day), attended UC Berkeley in the ’70s – Harold studied genetics; Larry majored in architecture.
But a love of the customers and the family tradition drew them back into the fold. "We grew up in the business," says Larry, who remembers working with his older brother and father, Harold Sr., after school and on weekends at the flower stand that has occupied a spot in front of Gump’s on Post Street since Feb. 14, 1953.
Prior to establishing possibly the first stationary flower stand in the Financial District, the siblings’ grandfather was one of many small vendors of gardenias and violets operating a pushcart around the bustling downtown area. "One day he just got lazy and stayed in one place," Larry says, recalling what he’s always been told about his grandfather’s bold move.
It was their father who extended the reach of the business to the Cannery on Fisherman’s Wharf and Treasure Island, then a naval base. Both locations afforded the stand’s customers large doses of ’60s flower power. The tourists who flocked to the Cannery had all heard Scott McKenzie croon, "If you’re going to San Francisco …," and made sure to wear one of the Hoogasian blooms in their hair. The Treasure Island business was the spot where soldiers wired their last tokens of affection to loved ones before heading overseas.
After taking ownership, the sons brought the business to the next level. Harold took on marketing and promotions; Larry handled all of the designs and arrangements, then opened a storefront on Lombard Street, which closed shortly after he set up the current shop in South of Market six years ago.
It seems fitting that Harold and Larry, both fans of the city’s vibrant music scene as teens, would become an important part of the city’s music culture – florally speaking.
As the story goes, Harold entered a design contest at a flower show in 1976. Larry’s task was to build a gazebo. He pulled out all the stops, constructing a massive 1,000-square-foot structure. As he was nailing flowers over the trellises, a man strolled by and exclaimed, "My, my, my. I’ve never seen a pile of sticks so beautiful." That man happened to be Bill Graham. Not only did the siblings win the contest, but they also began a long relationship as the concert promoter’s florist, decking out dressing rooms for the Grateful Dead and Elton John and even putting together the wedding bouquet for Madonna’s "Like a Virgin" tour.
A career highlight for Larry, who was raised Catholic and had a contract with St. Mary’s for many years, came when he won the bid to make all of the arrangements for Pope John Paul II’s 1987 visit. "I had to chase away all the nuns," he says, explaining that many habited women were trying to snatch keepsakes from the floral decorations that were being broadcast to millions of television viewers.
His brother, Harold, has received his fair share of accolades too. His efforts have put the company in online and telephone floral service FTD’s top 100 in volume sales since the mid-’90s. To keep up with the competition, Harold has sealed contracts with 30 Walgreens, where a lot of last-minute flower sales occur these days.
Larry foresees customers soon pouring into the location on Townsend and Seventh streets as more residents move into the increasingly residential neighborhood. It looks like Hoogasian Flowers will be creating beautiful arrangements for locals on their birthdays and for their weddings and funerals for many years to come. (Deborah Giattina)
615 Seventh St., SF