Flowers by Diane
109 Second St.
Diane Alonso went from working as a supervisor for a global health insurer to opening her own flower shop. You could call that following your bliss. In 1996 she was at Cigna Health in downtown Manhattan, and two weeks before Valentine’s Day in 1997, she was at Flowers by Diane on Second Street in Hoboken.
As any florist can tell you, Valentine’s Day is by far the biggest day of the year. On Feb. 14, Diane’s two-designer shop balloons to 25 designers.
“I’ve always had a passion for floral arrangement,” she says. “I had been working on the side making arrangements, and one day I’d had enough. I saw a calendar with flower arrangements in it, and something snapped inside.”
Her love of flowers was coupled with a love of weddings, an auspicious love affair to be sure. Though she was living in Weehawken, she says, “I came to Hoboken to establish myself. I knew Hoboken was the right environment for a woman in a small business. I knew the demographics; there were young professionals who end up getting married. It was a good fit.”
Her experience in the service industry and a second career as an actress prepared her for the wedding business. She even planned a Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding in New Jersey. The legendary off-Broadway spectacle features audience participation in a staged wedding. She was also doing weddings on the side for friends and family. “It all clicked for me,” she says.
Flowers, like food, have to be fresh, which presents an ongoing obligation for florists. Diane gets her flowers from farmers in Ecuador and Colombia, as well as from a wholesale distribution center in Bergen County.
“It’s a small shop with not a lot of square footage,” Diane says. “It’s better for our customers and us not to have a large inventory.” That said, she can always satisfy customers’ special requests.
She loves the roses from Ecuador and the hydrangeas from Colombia. “I’m very visual,” Diane says. “I’m like Martha Stewart, self-taught. It’s not just creativity, it’s about good balance.” She’s also developed an understanding of flowers from “sheer experience.”
It’s only fitting that a lover of weddings would be married herself. The one downside for her on the big day was her decision to do her own floral arrangements. “I destroyed my beautiful French manicure,” she says. “I spent the night before redoing my professionally-done nails.”
A lot has changed in the 18 years since her wedding. In fact, when it comes to floral trends, things are constantly changing. “Designs are more simple and elegant now,” she says.
At the same time, she never metaphorically steps on her bride’s train. “Everyone has her own unique style, taste, and vision,” she says. “I always listen to their needs and wants and desires. I see what excites them. Every girl dreams of this day.”
She’s also sensitive to the many cultures in the tri-state area. Whether it’s an Asian funeral, Jewish holiday, or Indian wedding, customs have to be observed.
Diane doesn’t believe in the hard sell. “I give them a proposal, and if it’s the right fit, they come back.” Most do, and it’s because Diane and her team are there every step of the way. “We’re involved in every wedding we do,” she says. “We don’t send drivers to deliver the flowers.”
And sometimes they’re involved in weddings they don’t do. “In a destination wedding, we will make a list to present to florists.”
Folks should not be intimidated by what they believe is the high cost of beautiful fresh flowers. Diane can make an exquisite bouquet for $10.
“For me,” she says, “it comes from the heart.”
706 Washington St.
You could say that Mathnasium is the McDonald’s of math institutions because it’s a franchise that’s been around for decades. But that’s where the similarity ends. There’s nothing fast food about it. Kids and adults can rocket to the highest orbit of math theory, using a tried-and-true system developed by math innovator Larry Martinek.
The owners are Bruhati Trivedi and Ami Joshi. They opened the franchise in January 2015, choosing Hoboken because “it’s turning into a very kid-friendly town,” Joshi says. It serves students from other Hudson County towns, including Jersey City, Secaucus, and Union City.
As long as you know how to write your numbers, you can start as young as four. Adults sign up if they need to know math to achieve a particular career goal—one student needed help passing a nursing exam—or if they just want to stay sharp in a faced-paced, youth-centered technological world.
Most of the students need to get up to speed in school math class, pass the SATs, or in the case of gifted mathematicians, get advanced instruction that they can’t get at their grade level.
You’ve probably seen the storefront at 706 Washington with its welcoming red sign. It looks like a fun place, which is important because—as the owners acknowledge—they’re also dealing with math phobia, a ubiquitous condition almost unique to mathematics. You rarely hear of students fearing art history, but algebra, calculus, geometry, trigonometry, statistics—all taught at Mathnasium—these can sometimes bring on cold sweats or hot tears.
To avoid this, students are taught to “understand” and “make sense” of math, not to just memorize theorems or learn by rote. Fear of math, Joshi says, “is linear. If you don’t know a and b, then you won’t understand c and d, and fear builds.”
She says, “Instructors are trained to meet students where they are,” starting with a comfort zone of what they know. “We never start with something completely unfamiliar,” she says. The system uses simple vocabulary, which brings up the dreaded word problem.
“Children cannot do word problems,” she says, “but unfortunately, you step out the door, and everything is a big word problem. In the real world everyone has to do word problems, and they are a good way to test reading comprehension as well as math.”
The franchise is conveniently located across the street from two schools—All Saints Episcopal and Hoboken Charter—and is close to Stevens Institute of Technology, whose student body is a rich source of natural math instructors. Other instructors are full-time math teachers or math professionals working in mathematical fields.
Both Trivedi and Joshi are former elementary school teachers with extensive classroom experience and math backgrounds.
“We both stayed at home with small kids and wanted to get back into education,” Joshi says. “But we wanted to do something a little different, something very personal.” The organization wants hands-on instructors who actually deal with children, not professors who lecture from a podium.
Martinek created the system 40 years ago when he realized his own son was mathematically gifted. In 2002, his curriculum became the driving force behind the Mathnasium learning centers, launched by educators Peter Markovitz and David Ullendorff. The first center opened in Westwood, California. Now there are centers in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia.
Depending on the time of year, the Hoboken franchise handles 50 to 75 “learning guests” with five instructors. Students are referred to the center by classroom teachers or brought by parents.
In the modern world, people get a false sense of security when they have a smartphone in their pocket that can calculate for them. But, Joshi says, “Math is a survival skill. What if your phone or computer were taken away? I’d rather rely on myself.”
The franchise is aptly named. “Just as a gym trains the body, math trains the mind,” Joshi says. “There is a big world of math out there.”—07030