WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — After nearly a century of serving the Uptown community, a local florist abruptly closed its doors on Jan. 1, surprising many long-time customers.
Fort Washington Florist, near the corner of Broadway and 181st Street, opened in 1917. Betty Zafiros bought the shop in 1988 and quickly built a reputation for both her beautiful floral arrangements and her way with customers.
In a Dec. 26 letter addressed to some regular customers, Zafiros referenced personal health issues as her reason for closing.
“I appreciate your past support and it’s been my pleasure to know and serve you,” Zafiros said in the letter.
Zafiros could not immediately be reached for comment.
On Friday, the shop had been emptied out, with no information posted about the closure.
Many customers were shocked to find that the shop had shut down.
“She had this shop for years and was such a nice lady,” said Arnold Lyons, 63. “If you didn’t have all the money for a funeral arrangement, she’d let you slide until you could pay her.”
Lyons came in every Friday with his friend John Bobo so that Bobo could buy flowers for his wife. Both men said that everything appeared to be business as usual when they visited the shop on Dec. 26.
“We were here last Friday,” Lyons said. “She didn’t say nothing.”
Other customers told similar stories of Zafiros’s kindness.
“I came here when my best friend’s mother died and Betty was there to console me,” wrote Mishi Duarte Morales in a community Facebook group. “She is incredibly sweet and arranged the most gorgeous set of flowers I have ever seen for the funeral.”
In 2011, Zafiros told DNAinfo New York that she grew up watching her father run his own floral shop in Queens. Having a shop of her own was Zafiros’s childhood dream.
Customers said that showed in the way she treated them. She took especially good care of the many couples that visited her shop for wedding arrangements, presenting them with a single rose at the end of each visit.
Dania Zapata Morel, the event coordinator at Coogan’s Restaurant at 4015 Broadway, said that Fort Washington was the only florist she would use for the restaurant’s special events.
“I always said the reason the arrangements were so beautiful and flowers lasted so long is because she put so much of herself in everything she did,” Morel wrote of Zafiros.
Customers said Zafiros also had an uncanny knack for predicting what flowers gift recipients would like.
“You could go in to Betty and tell her about someone you wanted to buy flowers for and describe the person to her and she’d make recommendations,” said longtime customer Andrea Flume.
Flume said that she once ordered a friend a dozen white roses for her birthday on Zafiros’s recommendation. When they arrived, her friend thanked her and wondered how Flume had figured out her favorite kind of flower.
Many lamented the loss of such a talent in the community.
“She was my go-to for beautiful flowers,” said Vickie Adams, 66. “I have no idea [where to go now]. There’s always the guys on the corner, but there’s nothing the quality of Betty’s. She was the best.”