Human Flower Project

SF Flower Vendors: Stand, Stand, Stand

San Francisco’s city supervisor wants to dismantle a floral tradition: the folk economics of sidewalk sales.


Linda Hoogasian waters wares at the Market Street flowerstand she and her family have run in San Francisco for 55 years

Photo: Kurt Rogers, for SF Chronicle

With more kinks than a Rastafarian convention, San Francisco culture is beloved by eccentriphiles all over the world. The smell inside Lyle Tuttle’s tattoo parlor (several decades of nervous sweat) would call down the health inspectors in Baltimore or Salt Lake City. But here, it’s a municipal treasure, all part of the ambiance.

So it is with surprise as well as chagrin we read that San Francisco City Supervisor Jake McGoldrick is trying to overturn a century-old—and beautiful—city fixture: family owned flowerstands. Carl Nolte, reporter for the SF Chronicle, interviewed several of the local vendors. “Basically they are trying to get rid of us,’’ said Harold Hoogasian, who owns one of the stands as well as a number of storefront flower shops in the city. “They are trying to get rid of an institution like the cable cars.’‘

imageSan Francisco Flower Stand, n.d.

Image: All Posters

The central issue seems to be whether the flower vendors can maintain control of their rights to preside and do business on the public streets. Nolte writes that as it is now, “permits for the stands, which cost about $750 a year, stay with the same operators, who can sell them or pass them on to their descendants.” And they do. Several of the families, like the Hoogasians, are second and third generation Armenians who fled political oppression in Europe and established a foothold in the U.S. by selling flowers on the street. Mark Murdock inherited his flowerstand from his parents, “Sephardic Jews from Greece,” who had survived the Holocaust.

Want to get technical? Here is the city code on how the permits are to operate. And here is a recent review of the ordinances. The city issued its first permit to a street flower vendor in 1904. There are currently 18 flowerstands throughout San Francisco, many of them, local landmarks.

Supervisor McGoldrick had said he wants a lottery system for assigning permits, to open the flowerstand business up to new vendors. “I don’t know anybody who has inheritance rights to public property,’’ McGoldrick told Nolte. A San Francisco TV station reported yesterday that, under pressure from the vendors and their allies, McGoldrick backed up a bit and is willing to grandfather in existing vendors rather than forcing them to enter the lottery. But it appears he is holding firm that they will be able neither to sell nor to pass on their permits to family.

We were alerted about the city dispute by Rebecca Quilici last fall. “I have worked at a sidewalk flowerstand in San Francisco for 20 years,” she wrote.  “The San Francisco Board of Supervisors have taken it upon themselves to implement legislation that will essentially destroy the flowerstands and the 100 years of tradition that have created these wonders.  We are fighting.” Quilici stressed, “I don’t think any other city in the U.S. has what we do.”

imageKearny St. Flower Stand, 1912

Photo: Mark Reuben Gallery

And isn’t that the point? In this city of exceptionalism, shouldn’t the custom and wonder of the city flowerstands and the merchant families who began and maintained them be preserved? Like the Marxist murals at the Coit Tower, this cultural kink is a marvel of public life in the capital of Eccentricity. In the midst of high technology, loose ties, and all-business relations, here is a vestige of folk economics.  If you’d like to lend your support and/or pick up a bouquet, here’s a map that can guide you to ten of the city’s flower stands. Please pass on high fives (or a more Armenian gesture of solidarity) from us.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/21 at 01:00 PM


Pity greed and bureaucracy are attempting to destroy a beautiful tradition.  It seems to me they miss the bigger picture of the loss of tourism revenues they will encounter if successful.  Shame on the SF Board of Supervisors!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/14 at 06:44 PM
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