For more than a century, one East Elmhurst family has been helping their neighborhood bloom.
Donhauser Florist, located at 71-01 Astoria Blvd., was established in 1889 by Hans Donhauser, a German florist who immigrated to the United States. While working at a Brooklyn cemetery he heard that St. Michael’s Cemetery in Queens was in need of a florist.
He then moved to East Elmhurst and built a greenhouse on 71st Street and Astoria Boulevard. After a few years, 12 more greenhouses were added and a flower shop was built on 49th Street and Astoria Boulevard.
Donhauser’s family worked at the shop, including his sons, daughters and even his great granddaughter Gladys.
“When your parents are in the business, you’re in the business,” said Gladys about working at the shop since she was 12 years old. “It’s all I’ve known.”
Donhauser Florist moved to 71-01 Astoria Blvd. and replaced one existing greenhouse, while the other 12 were later sold to become the Westway Motor Inn.
Gladys, who grew up at the house currently still standing next to the shop, has owned the store since 1977 together with her husband William Gray, who initially started working at the 49th Street shop.
Since then the Grays have been providing flower arrangements for their neighbors, some of whom they have shared first communions with and years later, weddings. William even arranged all the flowers for his own wedding.
The shop provides flowers for visitors to St. Michael’s Cemetery, located across the Grand Central Parkway, first communions, weddings and other special occasions.
However, the Grays, who have been married for 60 years, say business has been up and down ever since the city’s Department of Homeless Services decided to first use the Westway Motor Inn, located right next door, as a temporary homeless shelter.
“It was once an exquisite hotel with beautiful rooms and a pool,” Gladys said. “Since about a decade ago we started to have problems with it. People were afraid to come around the shop.”
Two weeks ago, the city approved converting the motel into a permanent homeless shelter housing more than 120 families.
Although they are nervous on how the permanent shelter will affect the community and their business, the couple continues to welcome customers with smiles on their faces.
“I hope it stays for 125 more years,” Gladys said.
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