Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
Most people who visit the Marriage Bureau in lower Manhattan are just stopping by for a few hours, either watching loved ones say their vows or taking the plunge themselves. But there are regulars.
Natasha Jahangir comes out to City Hall every Friday to take pictures of newlyweds for her photo blog, Married in New York. Braulio Cuenca, one of a few photographers who make a living offering their services to couples, has been a fixture on the steps of the Marriage Bureau for over two decades — long enough to win him a profile in the New York Times.
George Taxi, 47, is coming up on three years in October. Monday through Friday, except on holidays or when the weather is rotten, he sets up two tables on the sidewalk and loads them with orange buckets of roses, peonies, baby's breath, and calla lilies. Taxi chats with soon-to-be spouses while he snips and wraps bouquets for their ceremonies.
"I try to talk to them and hear their stories," Taxi says on a sticky Tuesday in June. "Also, I know that it relieves some of their nervousness. Not always: I had one woman say to me, 'Just make my flowers, I don't want to talk! I don't know what I'm doing!'"
Like the photographers scattered outside the marble building, Taxi — the shortened version of his "really long" Greek surname — operates his business independent of City Hall. Originally from Brooklyn, where he still lives, he spent eight years in the Coast Guard and another 20 on Wall Street in the financial industry ("I wasn't a big shot," he notes). When Taxi lost his job in a round of layoffs, his uncle, who had a hot dog stand near City Hall, suggested he try selling flowers to wedding parties.
Taxi was a total newbie to working with flowers at that point. But he did some research, talking to people who did and watching YouTube videos on the topic. Though he describes his original setup as totally unorganized, input from the brides buying his bouquets helped him work out the kinks — as did his wife, who works at the stand with him on busy days.
"It was kind of nerve-wracking, but even though I didn't know what I was doing, I was selling. So I said, okay, if I could just learn a little bit, I could do really well," Taxi says. "I'm no professional by any means, but people seem to like my flowers."
Today, he has a better system. Taxi buys his flowers on Sunday from a vendor near his home in Brooklyn (the name of which he doesn't like to reveal) and purchases more as the week progresses, depending on business. Roses, the classic, are the most popular flower by far. Taxi estimates that they account for 80 percent of the bouquets he makes, with red and white varieties selling the fastest, followed by pink. Orange, not so much, except in the fall, when people want more of an autumnal look. This time of year peonies are big, Taxi says, but they're expensive — $7 a stem, or $20 for three.
Jahangir, the weddings blogger, says she can recognize Taxi's bouquets on sight at this point. "He started doing really simple bouquets, but now he likes to experiment," she says.
Taxi will change up the look of a bouquet depending on a couple's requests, and can try to get specific flowers if they ask in advance. Most arrangements cost $30, but if the flowers have wilted or their petals have browned, which can be a problem in the thick heat of summer in New York, he'll give the customer a discount.
On that Tuesday morning, when a bride's family members stop by Taxi's stand to buy a bouquet for her, he tells them to come back so he can tweak the arrangement if she doesn't like it.
"I want the bouquets to look good," Taxi says. "They’re going to be in their pictures forever."