NEAR WEST SIDE — Monday is expected to be one of the busiest days of the year at Kennicott Brothers, 452 N. Ashland Ave.
Valentine’s Day means big business for the wholesaler, which provides flowers, plants and floral supplies to professional florists across the Chicago area.
“We’ll sell 150,000 roses this week. Normally, it’s 100,000 for the month. So, we’re selling a month and a half’s worth of roses in a week,” said Dan Andrews, director of operations.
Roses are still the most popular choice for Valentine’s Day — especially traditional red roses with baby’s breath and leather leaf — but Kennicott can locate even the strangest flower.
“This year I had a request for a bat orchid,” said Gary Gardiner, lead flower buyer, who doesn’t know yet how much this unusual flower from Holland will cost. “It could be as much as $15 per flower.”
Roses wholesale for $1.80-$2.25 each. Nearly all are grown in Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico. In order to handle the seasonal demand, Kennicott extends its hours leading up to the holiday and hires four temporary workers.
“On Sunday, we’re normally never open, but we’re open twice a year — once Valentine’s Day and once Mother’s Day,” Andrews said.
It’s the roses that grew the business. An early version of the company was started in 1836 by horticulturalist Dr. John Kennicott, at his home in Glenview, known now as The Grove, which is a National Historic Landmark preserved by the Glenview Park District. Kennicott’s sons started the wholesale business in 1881 as a way to sell roses and other flowers that were grown at The Grove.
Kennicott Brothers originally was located in the Water Street Market where Macy’s on State Street is now, according to the company’s website. Business has bloomed ever since. There are now 12 locations in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Georgia.
They’ve been in their current location on the West Side since 1998, and they’re recognized by the Illinois State Historical Society as one of the oldest continuous businesses in the state.
Nowadays, the company is employee-owned. Great-great-grandson Red Kennicott, who’s worked there since 1959, serves as chairman and CEO.
“We’re very fortunate we have a product that most everyone loves,” said Kennicott.