An iconic Riverhead business has closed its doors.

Homeside Florist and Greenhouses, which the Olsen family operated on Main Road in Riverhead since 1954, ceased operations as of the first of the year.

“It’s a new season for us,” said Andrea Hanulec, who has run the business with her brother Kris Olsen since their father Ernie semi-retired several years ago.

Hanulec ran the florist and retail operation, while Olsen handled the growing and wholesale end of the business.

After the family patriarch passed away in October, Hanulec said she and her brother knew it was time to take stock of their lives and make some decisions about the future.

The business wasn’t getting any easier, she said. “The overhead just keeps rising — heat for the greenhouses is the killer,” she said. “Skilled labor was getting more and more difficult to find. None of it’s easy and we’re getting older.”

“I’ve been standing for 48 years,” said Hanulec, 66. “As soon as I stepped out of high school my father was like — good you do this.” She laughed. “He was glad to relinquish the retail part of it. He loved his greenhouses,” she said.

“We just so much enjoyed it,” Hanulec said of the business. “The people around here are just awesome. But I just couldn’t do it anymore,” she said.

“It was a painful decision,” she said, her voice filling with emotion. “My heart was willing but my body said no, no, no.”

“It’s bittersweet.”

“It was not an easy decision to make,“ said Kris Olsen. “We had some employees for 20, 35 years. And the market is changing.”

Olsen, 61, is going to work at Kurt Weiss Greenhouses in Center Moriches. He starts next Monday. He said he’s excited because he’ll be doing the work he loves and will be able to focus on it. As a small business owner, he noted, you have to do a lot of different things and can’t necessarily concentrate on doing what you love most.

Meanwhile, he’s been working to wind down the greenhouse business, selling stock and equipment.

His sister said she is adjusting to retirement, doing things she has not had an opportunity to do as a small-business operator with scant time off, pursuing hobbies like quilting and sewing. “Right now, I’m happy to have a little time at home,” she said.

“Change is always difficult,” Hanulec said. “I’m not good at that. But sometimes you have to reinvent yourself — find a new purpose in life,” she said. “You just realize the time has come to do something different.”

Elaine and Ernie Olsen in an undated family photo. Photo courtesy of Andrea Haneluc

Having time off allows her to care for her elderly mother Elaine, who is suffering from dementia and was hospitalized with pneumonia last week.

“If we were still open, it was Valentine’s week. There is no way I could have gotten away to spend the time with her that I needed to,” Hanulec said.

Homeside was in operation before the Great Depression, Olsen said.  His father purchased the business and the property in August 1954. The site had one 1937 greenhouse and shipping shed and a house with no indoor plumbing.

The business closed its doors as of Dec. 31.

Kris Olsen said he was informed by Cornell Cooperative Extension that Homeside was the last retail greenhouse on Long Island. “If that’s true,” he said, “there’s got to be a reason for it. The market forces are changing.”

The four-acre site on the corner of Main Road and County Road 105 is now for sale  — a “prime commercial corner,” according to the real estate broker offering the property: “High Profile Residential /Commercial Project Located In The Most Desired Centralized Location For All Eastern L.I. Tourism Hotspots!”

 

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.