Chris Stefanakos, florist and member of Five Towns, dies at 92
As a child, Chris Stefanakos craved food and a better life, possessing a will to work that helped him become a fixture in Five Towns as he developed Stefan’s Florist.
“To retire is to expire,” he would say whenever someone suggested relaxing into their senior years.
The work he did – cutting high school for odd jobs, learning some Yiddish for his large Jewish clientele and doing centerpieces almost around the clock for several days, then coming home for a few hours to refresh, his family and friends said.
Hewlett’s Stefanakos died of heart failure on October 14 at the age of 92, having visited his store in Lawrence every week since his retirement in 2013 until shortly before his death.
“That guy was a force to be reckoned with,” said one of his sons, Steven Stefanakos of Massapequa. “It was 100 miles per hour and you could never keep up.”
In his eulogy, Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman described Stefanakos as a storyteller, a man with an “innate capacity for assimilation” and someone with a photographic memory.
“If it was a sin to be boring,” Blakeman said, “that guy was a saint.”
Stefanakos was also a loyal friend through good times and bad, according to Blakeman.
“When you win you have a lot of new friends. When you lose you have very few friends,” he said. “Chris was one of my very few good friends.”
Stefanakos made connections in religious, business and political circles by helping people and getting things done, sometimes simply through the force of his personality, those who knew him said.
When Rabbi Zev Friedman was overseeing the construction of his Rambam Mesivta, a high school in Lawrence, Stefanakos visited regularly to check on progress and found he needed landscaping. “I’ll call my guys and deal with it,” Friedman recalled saying. Stefanakos had a landscaper install greenery in time for the opening ceremony.
“When Chris calls someone out for a favor, it’s done,” Friedman said.
Born in Manhattan to Greek immigrants, Stefanakos grew up during the Great Depression on the Lower East Side. Her father pushed a hot dog cart, while her mother worked in a factory on Long Island.
Much to his mother’s chagrin, Chris continued to skip school as a teenager to earn money, whether washing cars or driving delivery trucks.
“They were hungry,” said son James Stefanakos of Hewlett, of his father’s family.
Once, according to family history, Chris Stefanakos was working plucking feathers from chickens when his mother walked into the store and he slipped away. But she saw him and ordered him to go back to school.
He also worked at a florist in Manhattan and, realizing he could do the job, bought his cousin’s Central Florist store in Five Towns for $500 when he was in his twenties.
Without any formal business training or college degree, Stefanakos grew his flower business from a few workers to around 50 at one point, his children said. He added a showroom and more delivery trucks, they said, and hired people of diverse ethnic backgrounds at a time when minorities were struggling to find jobs.
Knowing that the area had a large Jewish community, he educated himself on Jewish culture. He networked before the concept became popular, his children said, and educated people on jobs like telling a caterer about an event, earning their loyalty, those who knew Stefanakos said.
On top of that, Stefanakos tried to stand out in the florist business by adding props and backdrops to florist sales, according to his family.
“Whether it was a big party or a small party, he never turned people down and he made sure they got more than they paid for,” Steven said. Stefanakos. “He treated his clients like members of his family.”
His hard work bought him cigars, bespoke Italian suits, fine British shirts and whatever he wanted to eat.
While in retirement, the child of the Great Depression would ask James Stefanakos’ wife, Joanna, daily, “What’s for dinner tonight?”
“He loved to eat,” said Joanna Stefanakos of Hewlett. “He loved that we all ate together as a family.”
Besides his two sons, Chris Stefanakos is survived by one daughter, Danae Stefanakos of Atlantic Beach. Stefanakos was predeceased by his wife, Vickie, and three sisters.
A funeral mass for Stefanakos at St Paul’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral was followed by a burial at St Charles Cemetery in East Farmingdale.