Stan Lapinksi moves quickly around the large table beind the register at on North Avenue. In minutes, he transforms an empty basket, a piece of green foam and a few loose flowers into an arrangement that looks like it took hours to create.
But Lapinksi doesn't have hours to spend on bouquets and centerpieces. It's the day before Valentine's Day and the flower shop is bustling with activity. Several customers wait in line to pick up their orders, while behind the counter, the phone rings nonstop as people call in their requests. Lapinksi and his boss, shop owner Jack Rekemeier, maneuver around each other in a way that almost seems choreographed. Together they trim the stems of roses and carnations, arrange the flowers in vases and baskets and gather bouquets with the ease of two people who have obviously been perfecting their craft for several years.
Lapinski has been in the business for about 38 years. Rekemeier has been at it a bit longer. The business, he said, is nearly 100 years old. His grandfather was the founder. When his father was disacharged from the military following World War II, he decided to go into the family business, which was located in Roselle at the time.
At first glance, Lapinski and Rekemeier make the job look easy. But a closer look at the table and floor in front of them - strewn with discarded flower petals, leaves and stems - reveals a slightly more complicated craft. To begin with, there are the tools - razors, knives, clippers, trimmers. It almost resembles a surgeon's table. And then there are other objects that almost seem out of place among the brightly-colored flowers. Foam, for one thing; and wire - lots of wire. And then there's the giant walk-in fridge containing every type of flower imaginable.
But as Lapinski and Rekemeier gather the typical Valentine's Day arrangements - a dozen roses, a boquet of fragrant stargazer lillies and carnations, white baby's breath against red rosebuds - there are a few pieces that almost look out of place for the holiday. Lapinski said it's not uncommon to get unusual requests from customers on Valentine's Day. He's had people ask for sculptures of poodles and other animals made of flowers. then there was a giant heart made of roses that a man requested a few years ago as part of a marriage proposal.
There are also some regulars that Lapinski seems to have a fondness for. One customer, for example, orders a simple basket of white daisies studded with a red rose each year. The arrangement is for his wife, who loves daisies. But by far, the most popular request continues to be roses.
"Nothing says love like a red rose," Lapinki said, as he puts the finishing touches on yt another arrangement.
The scene will continue until closing time. It's a bit chaotic, but as the sweet scent of thousands of flowers mingles with the excitement of the Feb. 14 holiday, there's also a sense of transquility and of course, romance.