A quarter century after leaving the corner of Pratt and Trumbull streets, the Lane & Lenge flower shop is returning to the city where it made its name.
The shop will forge its future as part of two new area hotels after owner Bob Dinucci closed its Park Road store in West Hartford. The florist moved into basement space of The Goodwin in June, just a block from the fabled old store, and Lane & Lenge will open its new storefront later this summer in The Delamar in West Hartford.
The deals are cause for bilateral optimism for Dinucci and his century-old shop: The florist industry has rebounded of late, despite struggles with competing online retailers and declining revenues, and in downtown Hartford, business leaders and officials say there's momentum that belies the fiscal issues of Connecticut and its capital city.
"I think there's some positive things happening here," Dinucci said in an interview at the store's space in The Goodwin. "There's a lot of young people coming back in."
Lane & Lenge established itself as a Hartford benchmark on Pratt and Trumbull for more than 60 years. When it closed its doors in 1992, amid a recession that proved especially difficult for florists, a Courant story described its departure as "another wound for the city's downtown." Guido Dinucci, Bob's father and then-co-owner, said at the time: "We hate to leave."
The location, which now houses a restaurant called The Russell, still inspires nostalgia for the younger Dinucci, the third-generation owner of the flower shop. It had hand-carved woodwork, Italian marble and a door forged of Mexican iron in 1928, which Dinucci still owns.
"During the holidays, all my high school friends would end up helping out, driving, delivering," he said. He keeps a painting of the old store next to his computer, and he said he'll use some of the original vases and light fixtures in the Delamar store in Blue Back Square.
There, Dinucci will have a small, windowed storefront on the first floor, to the left of the hotel's main entrance. He hopes the attention the luxury hotel brings will boost his business by providing him with more exposure and event opportunities (the hotel has a 250-person ballroom).
Dinucci won't see customers in Hartford. The space in The Goodwin, next to the wine cellar, is used as a design space, and he has been servicing events for the hotel.
"Event service is important to us," Dinucci said. "That's why we like this relationship we're developing with the Delamar and the Goodwin."
The flower shop dates back to 1912, when George Lane opened Lane Florists on Asylum Street. It moved to Pratt and Trumbull in 1928, and was the first tenant of the building.
Dinucci's family traces its ownership back to Frank Lenge, who opened his own flower shop on Market and Trumbull streets in 1920. The construction of Constitution Plaza forced Lenge to move the store in the 1950s. Around that time, according to Courant archives, Guido Dinucci married Lenge's daughter and bought the store.
A decade later, he bought out Lane's shop and combined the two at the Pratt and Trumbull, where it would remain until 1992.
The younger Dinucci studied political science and history — not botany — at Tufts University. He hadn't planned to take over the family business, but he started helping out when father began experiencing health problems, and he never left.
"I think that's the case with most family businesses," he said.
He took over in the 90s, at a time when the recession of the late-80s was still wreaking havoc for florists. A trade organization reported about 100 of the state's 800 flower shops closed by 1992.
Dinucci said the business has changed even more dramatically since internet florists began to offer cheaper and more generic flower options. Meanwhile, fewer wakes, shorter hospital stays, and "in lieu of flowers" cards have largely deteriorated primary sources of revenue.
"Now people aren't having calling hours. When I was a kid, people used to have two-day wakes," he said.
The deals with the hotels, therefore, were vital. Still, there's a sentiment among Connecticut florists that the business climate is improving. Leah Van Ness, the president of the Connecticut Florists Association and owner of Montville Florist, said clients are starting to look past the easiest, cheapest options.
"I do think the general public is becoming more educated, so rather than strictly shopping online with ... an anonymous website, people are looking to find a website of a local florist, a florist that is a brick-and-mortar florist, someone that is familiar with the area," she said.
The decline has continued, Van Ness said, and the association now has only 150 members, "but the flower shops that have been able to remain in business have been growing stronger."
Dinucci echoed that observation, and said he's been lucky to maintain the store's clientele base, who still come to Lane & Lenge for their everyday needs, like anniversaries and birthdays. The newcomers, though, often find a refreshing level of service that separates old-school florists from the online retailers.
"When they really experience using a florist," he said, "they like it."