Eric and Carrie Abolafia

Abby’s Parkside Nursery 

Abby’s Parkside Nursery and Florist is a third-generation, family-owned and operated garden center. Tell us about growing up around the family business and eventually taking over.

My paternal grandfather, Morris Abolafia, and his brother-in-law (my great uncle) Nat opened the first Abby’s Garden Center on Rockaway Turnpike in Lawrence. The name Abby’s is a play on Abolafia. Our garden center was a concession of TSS department stores. My dad joined the business a year or two later, around 1970. I grew up hanging around the nursery in the busy season, jumping around the soil stacks, making sand sculptures in clear boxes, and planting house plants. As I got older, I did carry outs, sold Christmas trees, helped take annuals and perennials off the trucks and helped customers. Back in the day, we also unloaded peat moss trucks by hand. The peat moss was frozen solid.

In 1987, the year I graduated college, I started to do all the ordering of merchandise, first perennials and then annuals. In 1989, TSS went bankrupt and began to sell off all their properties. At this time, I looked for new retail space and opened Abby’s Parkside Nursery and Florist in Wantagh in October 1989, while my dad stayed in Lawrence until 1991.

My parents worked with me on a regular basis from the time we opened until the pandemic. During the pandemic, they ran a “call center” from home, which was invaluable to us. In 2022, they both returned to work during the spring season. My dad recently passed away, but my mom still helps out.

Carrie and I met in July 1988. We got engaged in February 1990 and married February 1991. While she has always been my right hand when it comes to matters of the store, Carrie and I agreed it was important for her to stay at home to raise our three children. She started to work in the store during the spring season in May 2013, when our youngest was in middle school. And, in 2018, she parlayed her former career in public relations and marketing by taking over our social media as well.

With the holiday season in full swing, what special items can customers find at Abby’s?

Some of the hallmarks of our holiday season are our handmade items, which include everything from grave blankets and wreaths to our popular holiday planters and beautiful bows. All of our Abby’s staff take great pride in making these items, which they’ve been working on weeks prior to the holiday. This is a very labor-intensive holiday, especially given the volume and variety of styles we offer our customers. And if you don’t find what you like, we are happy to customize any item.

We also take great pride in showcasing local artisans and keeping our local communities strong by offering items exclusively made for Abby’s, such as birdhouses, porch signs and Christmas ornaments. And just like we offer our customization, so do these local artists.

What tips do you have for Christmas tree maintenance? How can we help them survive until the New Year?

First, it is essential to give your tree a fresh cut at the base of its trunk, which we gladly do for our customers. Then, you want to fill the tree holder with warm water and keep it so throughout the season. We also recommend using Prolong, a Christmas tree preservative.

Abby’s is a community favorite. How do you keep your customers coming back? 

By continuing to offer the same service as we have for the past 34 years — quality merchandise, knowledgeable staff and excellent customer service. We know there are a lot of choices today, but we also know most people enjoy being at our store, walking up and down the aisles. As a small business, we believe it is very important to be involved and support our community as well as give back. For example, seeing firsthand how paralyzing life became for some people during COVID, we sold fruit and vegetables at cost so people didn’t have to go into a supermarket.

Plants and flowers make lovely gifts for the holidays. What are some easy-to-maintain, pet-friendly plants and flowers? 

While some may be safer than others around pets, I would not put plants within your pet’s reach if you don’t think they can avoid them. In terms of the holidays, you can never go wrong with poinsettias and Christmas cactus. If you’re looking for low-maintenance house plants that are pet friendly, we recommend spider plants, ponytail palms, African violet, Boston fern, polka dot plant, bromeliad, prayer plant and peperomia.

What hearty plants do you recommend that can survive cold New York winters? 

We recommend ornamental cabbage and kale for New York winters. We also encourage customers to plant evergreens so their property always has greenery throughout the year. In terms of flowers, there are pansies and violas, and in early March, there are hellebore perennials.

Describe some of the services you offer. 

We are a full-service garden center and florist. That means in addition to carrying live plants and flowers, we offer hard goods such as soil, mulch, ceramic and terracotta pots, and firewood. Our full-service flower shop always has a stocked refrigerator with fresh flowers. We also design arrangements for christenings, baby namings, bar/bat mitzvahs, engagement parties, weddings, retirement parties and funerals.

What goes into providing flower arrangements for weddings? Tell us about the process and what it takes to bring the couple’s vision to life. 

Providing flowers for weddings or any special events is one of our favorite services! Our floral designers will meet with the client to discuss everything and anything that will help fulfill their vision, including color choices, budget and inspiration. We encourage clients to bring photos that may help us understand their vision.

Do you have any personal favorites when it comes to annuals and perennials? 

My favorite annuals are sunpatiens and lantana, and my favorite perennials are echinacea and hydrangea. Carrie’s favorite annuals are sunpatiens, New Guinea impatiens and mezzo. Her favorite perennials are allium, peonies, hydrangeas and ornamental grasses.

What gardening trends are you seeing for spring 2024?

People want their backyards to be like an oasis, so color, color and more color, in both annuals and shrubs, have become the order of the day. Hydrangeas and dwarf red maples are our most popular shrubs and trees by far. Tropical plants are also quite popular.


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