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Closing their store while the city fights the COVID-19 threat is definitely a challenge, admits John Soroka, co-owner of Delphinium. But it’s hardly their first. Because, when he and two of his roommates, all performers working in the theater, had a dream of going into business together 24 years ago, Hell’s Kitchen was a very different kind of neighborhood.
“It was 1996, and Hell’s Kitchen was very sketchy,” he says. “My husband, Michael [Quinn], and our good friend Gary [Alaimo] started a flower business out of our home. It took over our apartment, and we eventually found out that there was this little space available on W47th St.”
That was the first Delphinium, and it was located just across the street from the current card and gift shop, voted one of W42ST readers’ favorite stores.
We ended up sleeping in the store with a baseball bat next to us
“I remember in the first few months we didn’t have real good security on the building. Someone had broken into the store and tried to get in the cash register, which was literally a cigar box at the time. We ended up sleeping in the store with a baseball bat next to us, because we were afraid they were going to come back and try to rip us off again, and we couldn’t get the door replaced quick enough.”
The flower business thrived for the next year. Then they opened a home accessories store on 9th Ave, followed by a men’s clothing store on W47th St. “So we were working three stores simultaneously, which was insane. Three completely different stores, in a one-block radius.
“However, after the price increases following 9/11, and then through the 2007 crash, we got squeezed out, except for this building, which has been very gracious to allow us to continue doing business.”
They learned as they went along – some things worked; other things, not so much. “I remember – and my partners will never let me forget it – our first Christmas. I was worried about not having enough candles in the store, and I ordered an enormous amount of candles. Four years later, we were still selling the same candles! So you live and learn.”
Candles still form a large part of what they do, along with anything from an oven mitt that reads: “F*ck this shit,” to picture frames, wine glasses, and bodega candles devoted to the Golden Girls. Plus, of course, greetings cards for every occasion.
“People still love cards. I thought they were going by the wayside at some point, but there are real people out there that are really into them, and how special sending something like that is to someone, actually handwriting the message – it’s really come back again.”
It’s possibly the only store in Manhattan to sell first night congratulations to the theater community, and it’s also a first stop for a large selection of NSFW gay-friendly and sexually explicit messages.
“Only once in a while,” says John. “Once, I had a Republican come in and complain that we were dumping on Trump, then they walked out.
“I’m like, ‘Bye. Sorry. We are not part of your people.’”
John and Michael are hunkered down in Westchester, missing the gym, but trying to stay physically active nonetheless. “We lived in HK for almost 20 years – on W47th St – 9th/10th Ave. And we’re still Hell’s Kitchen boys at heart. But, after running three businesses in the neighborhood for ten years straight, we needed some space.
“We’re managing to walk a lot, hike, and bike in areas that aren’t so heavily populated as in the city. We’ve tried to play tennis, but they closed all the parks with courts. I mean, how far apart are you when you play tennis with someone?
“We’ve started adding online meditation (Depak) and Yoga (by Tim) and I swear I’ll start lifting weights again soon!
“We try to really appreciate spring unfolding as well, because I’m usually watching it through the doorway of Delphinium.
“We both go through ups and downs on a regular basis, regardless of how diligent we are to try to stay positive. I think we’ve repainted our WHOLE apartment over the past few weeks, but I can’t paint it again, so we’ll see how this next month goes!”
The uncertainty is challenging, and they miss people. But, he says, they’re thankful to be healthy, and have spent a lot of energy applying for grants and loans.
“Like so many others, we can’t wait to open our doors once again and serve the HK community, the Broadway community, and all the businesses that rely on us for their last-minute needs on a daily basis.
“Our only hope is for all of us to get past this, learn from it, and be kinder to each other because of our shared experiences in this difficult time. We know things will be shaky for a bit as we begin to reopen down the road, but that it hasn’t taken away our amazing NYC spirit, that has always made us tough enough to handle just about anything that is thrown at us. We know how hard this isolated time has been for everyone, but we also know how resilient our people have always been. Our hope is that somehow it makes us stronger.”
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