They’re not family or dear friends, but they’ve been part of the most important milestones in my life—from courtship to marriage, from births to funerals. Maybe it’s because his family has been in business for 95 years in Orange County, but when Michael Macres delivers flowers, he usually has a minute for that bygone rarity, a personal chat with the customer.
In their busiest times in the past half-century, the Macreses ran shops in Anaheim, Laguna Beach, and Orange as well as four shops near each other in downtown Santa Ana. The oldest family flower shop in the county, the Macreses’ business not only tells us something about who we are as people, but it also gives us a glimpse into who we are as a county.
Now reduced to one shop, Macres Florists is a quiet pass-by on Broadway in downtown Santa Ana that has had the same “Say it with Flowers” logo embroidering the roofline in old-school cursive for the past eight decades. Valentine’s Day this month is big for many small florists, and it makes up about a fourth of Macres’ annual business.
On the 14th, Michael Macres and his wife, Tricia, usually have to start around 2 a.m., just like the old days when they had to go to the Los Angeles Flower Market for their wholesale stock. (They were able to get the flowers in Orange County starting in the 1970s.) Michael got involved in the family business as a kid, long before he graduated from Orange High School in 1964. Tricia grew up in a well-known Orange family, the Trewetts, who owned a blacksmith and welding shop.
Valentine’s Day is a big payday, but not as big as it might seem. There are all sorts of added expenses, including renting vans and refrigerated containers and hiring more drivers. Wholesale flowers are marked up at least 50 percent, but Tricia believes she can only increase the price of a dozen red roses from their normal $89.99 to $100. Still, Valentine’s Day remains the most lucrative time of the year.
“People will spend $10 on Mother’s Day and $100 on Valentine’s Day,” Michael says.
The shop has had its share of Valentine traumas—the time hundreds of roses froze in the refrigerator, and when there was a big fire across the street and customers could not get through to the florist. Orange County is a last-minute kind of place, and the Macreses tell me it’s not unusual for men (who send 95 percent of the Valentine’s flowers, Michael says) to tumble in from the nearby courthouse complex late in the afternoon, desperate to get flowers. Tricia once painted chrysanthemums red at a customer’s request, so he would have red flowers for his wife after the shop ran out of red roses.
“In the flower business, we all know who’s going out with whom,” Michael says.
He shares how one year, at the florist across the street from his business, a man ordered one bouquet for his wife and another for his mistress. The man wrote out the cards and left them on the table. The florist proceeded to put them in the wrong envelopes, so the mistress got the card for the wife and vice versa.
Then there was the woman who sent a guy flowers. She handed a Macres employee the card without putting it in the envelope: “Hope you’re going to have time to (X-rated) me tonight.”
An affable bearded man with a Santa Claus vibe, Michael has told me snippets of the family story that make the modest florist shop sound like a character in a miniseries. Michael’s grandfather Harry Macres was 12 when his parents were killed in Greece. He sailed to Ellis Island and started his own business in New York City in the 1890s selling flowers on street corners. As Michael tells it, Diamond Jim Brady, the flashy and gluttonous tycoon of the Gilded Age, emerged from the opera house one day and said to Harry Macres: “Give me every flower you got.” After a few of those giant orders, Macres was able to open his first shop, across from Carnegie Hall. The business thrived for a time. Family lore has it that the mob failed to pay a big bill, then came back during a national floral convention and paid with bootlegged liquor during Prohibition.
The family fled, opening Macres Florist in Anaheim in 1922. After launching a second shop in Santa Ana in 1935, the family further distinguished itself in 1948 by introducing a revolutionary way to keep flowers fresh at the Rose Parade—sticking them in cylindrical, glass Alka-Seltzer bottles. There were 3,500 roses, 1,000 birds of paradise, and two dozen fresh orchids on that float, which won an award.
“They used all different bottles,” Michael says. “But back then, Grandpa was using Alka-Seltzer like it was going out of style. In the ’40s, you had to go to market at 2 in the morning. You know how long it took to get to L.A. in the ’40s? And there was no air conditioning. They didn’t have an ice box when they first opened.”
In Orange County, especially in the 1940s and ’50s, they found what Tricia calls “a flower lifestyle.” Californians loved to order flowers—everything from corsages to wear to church to arrangements to decorate their home foyers. The grande dames of central and north Orange County held massive parties with a bouquet tucked in every niche. Many had large weekly floral orders.
“Way back then, Grandpa and Pop (Albert) knew everybody in town,” Michael says. “They knew who owned what businesses and what lodge (private and service clubs) they belonged to.”
Their telephone number was a woman’s name (Kimberly 2-8841), and it was easy to market through the service clubs.
“Adult women used to wear a lot of corsages,” Tricia says. “When the Broadway Theater across the street was the big thing in the ’40s, guys would come here to take their dates to the movies and buy them a corsage.”
The Macreses are starting to eye retirement, and their son, Daniel—a successful attorney in Washington, D.C.—has no interest in flowers. Sadly, Michael and Tricia are the end of the line.
When they do decide to close up shop, I’ll wish them well. They’ve worked so hard to continue the family tradition, and they are a part of my fondest memories. I’ll miss them. I imagine some of you have people like the Macreses in your lives: the baker and the candlestick maker who mean much more to you than their bakery or their candlesticks. It’s part of what makes living in this county so charming—we’re divided into 34 small towns, with all the humanity a small town has to offer.