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After 90 years, Oberle’s says goodbye to East Meadow

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Three generations of the Oberle family have experienced countless celebrations of life with hundreds of locals who patronized their florist and greenhouses over the course of nine decades.

Joanne Oberle Finocchiaro, 59, said she has cried with parents who have come to the East Meadow shop to buy flowers after a child’s untimely death. She has chatted with young brides excitedly planning their weddings. She has arranged corsages for high schoolers eagerly anticipating their proms. And she has helped countless residents who popped by the store on a Friday night to pick up a bouquet for their spouses on their way home from work.

“Everybody always shared their stories of why they’re buying flowers,” she explained. “You almost became the psychologist behind the counter after a while. But I loved it … We did have a very personal relationship with many of our customers.”

Finocchiaro, her siblings Elisa and Carl and her sister-in-law, Kim Oberle, said goodbye to their patrons last month, as Oberle Florist & Greenhouses closed on June 15. As owners of one of the oldest businesses in East Meadow, they reflected on how their shop and the community have grown in the past 90 years.

Emil Oberle Sr., a German immigrant and Elisa, Carl and Joanne’s grandfather, opened the business at 845 East Meadow Ave. in September 1926. He worked for Pabst Blue Ribbon in Milwaukee after immigrating to the U.S., but Finocchiaro said he dreamed of growing carnations.

When Emil purchased the property, East Meadow Avenue and nearby North Jerusalem Road were dirt paths. Speno Memorial Park was a sandpit. Elisa recalled that there was an apple orchard across the street, and that East Meadow was primarily a community of “hard-working farmers.”

Emil built two greenhouses on the property, and there are now six on the 133,000-square-foot lot. He grew the carnations he loved, as well as sweet peas, selling them wholesale to merchants in Manhattan.

Elisa said that her grandfather became prominent in the floral industry, and was the president of the American Carnation Society for several years. In addition to the flowers, he grew more food on the property during the Great Depression and World War II for business owners in need.

Elisa, Joanne and Carl’s father, Emil Jr., got into the business in the 1950s, and the family started building more greenhouses. In 1957, Elisa said, Oberle’s also became a retail florist. They opened a store in the early 1980s, and that was when the current owners became more involved in the business.

Growing up in a house next door and learning the trade, the Oberles saw floral trends come and go like fashion: the vibrant color schemes of the 1960s, the popularization of house plants, corsages that matched the color of formal dresses in the 1970s and ’80s, and more. No matter the plant, Finocchiaro said, customers always knew they could count on Oberle’s to grow it on-site instead of having it shipped from another state, or country.

Foreign competition, the spread of big-box stores across the area and the popularity of online shopping contributed to the family’s decision to close the business. It wasn’t an easy one, Elisa noted. “But on the other hand, businesses like this do not tend to last for three generations,” she added. “We’ve been very fortunate to have a very loyal customer base … we’ve had a lot of wonderful people come into our lives.”

In addition to serving different generations of customers, the Oberles have also given back to the community. They have served houses of worship like Temple Emanu-El, the East Meadow Jewish Center, and Calvary Luther and East Meadow United Methodist churches; donated flowers to events at the Cerebral Palsy Association Of Nassau County; provided plants to local schools for Mother’s Day and other holidays; and been loyal members of the East Meadow Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber, as well as several local elected officials, honored the family at East Meadow Community Pride Day this spring.

Long-time members of the Oberle’s staff said that the owners treated employees and customers like family. Diane Bianco, who was a floral designer and manager at the shop for 29 years, recalled that the Oberles were understanding of her demanding schedule as a single mother when she was hired. She said she would miss making people feel better by arranging plants for them — and spending time around the lush greenery herself.

“When you walked into the greenhouses and were surrounded by the beautiful flowers, it just lifted your spirits,” Bianco said. “It was like a little piece of heaven.”