On Saturday, June 5, the annual Philadelphia Flower Show opened — yet another sign that the city is returning to some semblance of normalcy after a year of disruptions from the coronavirus pandemic. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society pivoted this year to hosting the show outside at FDR Park, instead of its typical indoor event in March at the Convention Center, for the first time in its 193-year history. But after opening day, complaints of hours-long lines, lack of water and water refilling stations, and issues with the food vendors are inspiring many to take to social media to demand refunds. On Facebook, one attendee commented that the Flower Show this year was “a complete mess.”
The problems, many say, began before guests even made it into the park. After waiting to park their cars, visitors stood in long, disorganized lines in 93-degree heat for over an hour or more. “No one was walking around telling people what was going on,” Nicole Michalik, a radio host from 92.5XTU, told Eater. “No one was selling water when we were waiting in line.” Because the $45 tickets for the show were timed, Michalik was surprised that there were lines to get in at all. “I thought that was really strange, because they sold the tickets in advance, so they knew how many people were coming,” she said. Only after a friend told her to enter through a third distant entrance did she and her friends make it inside.
(Eater has reached out to both PHS and Spectra, the show’s vendor organizer, for comment and will update this story when comment comes in. When reached by email, PHS’s auto-reply came back: “Please note that we are currently experiencing a very high volume of email messages.”)
The problems only continued when guests made it into the park itself. According to the Flower Show website, outside food and beverages were not permitted, which meant many visitors didn’t know they were allowed to bring in their own water bottles to stay hydrated in the middle of a heatwave. (Buried in the FAQ section on the PHS website, organizers do recommend “wearing a hat, using an umbrella and bringing water to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate,” as well as noting that “we have no options on-site to refill water bottles but we will allow you to bring in your own water.”) Once inside, bottles of water cost $4, according to visitors.
“I actually declined to get food and beverage, because it didn’t seem worth it to wait in line in the heat,” an attendee named Jess G., who attended the show on Sunday, told Eater. “Thank god I brought my own water. I think everyone should be bringing their own water to survive the heat and walking around the many non-shade areas.” She said her friend didn’t bring her own water and was “so thankful” to share her water.
But water wasn’t the only problem. When Michalik and her friends made it inside around 2 p.m., they decided to get something to eat, based on enticing menus advertising raclette sandwiches, Maryland crab cakes, Italian desserts, and to-go cocktails. “We went to scan the menu on our phones and it said everything was sold out,” Michalik recalls. “We asked one of the food runners and they said you have to order online.” She and her friends went up to the food stalls and were able to order a “couple random things,” she said. “They were out of half the stuff but we got olives, short ribs, and chicken rollatini, which were weird, weird dishes in 90-degree heat.”
Other commenters noted that the picnic bags that could be ordered with tickets in advance were left out in the heat, making all the food inside hot. “Deviled eggs, parfait, salmon bagel, cream cheese warm?? Yuck,” Deborah Villafane wrote on PHS Gardening’s Instagram account. Villafane confirmed with Eater that upon picking up her picnic bag, she discovered that everything inside was warm. “Because the temp was over 90 degrees outside, we used common sense not to eat anything,” she said. “We did not take it back or ask for a refund — we simply threw it all away.”
On Facebook group Vegan City Philadelphia, one commenter, Hannah Ryann, shared a photo of a “grilled veggie hoagie” that they had ordered at the show. “For anyone attending flower show this week, you can skip the food court ‘grilled veggie hoagie’, which was $15 worth of microwaved frozen veggies on a soggy roll lmao.” Ryann told Eater that the sandwich was “so disappointing but also just hilarious at the same time, adding that “it tasted like microwaved veggies on bread. There weren’t any other ingredients — so not disgusting, just very very bland and homogeneous.”
Another Vegan City commenter said they ordered a quinoa and grilled vegetable hoagie — “a roll with Israeli couscous, a minuscule amount of quinoa, an occasional bit of carrot, and a few slices of pickle.” Michalik was “shocked” about the lines to get food in the first place. “It reminded me of [when] the Pope [came to Philly],” she said.
Jennifer Zavala, the chef behind popular birria pop-up Juana Tamale, shared Ryann’s Facebook post on Instagram, calling the Flower Show the Philly equivalent of the Fyre Festival, the 2017 luxury music festival where attendees were treated to cheese sandwiches and chaos. One visitor said that parking attendants and security guards were working in direct sunlight without tents, while vendors inside the show were covered. Zavala told Eater that her 78-year-old neighbor waited nearly two and a half hours in line before deciding to leave because of the heat.
“There are so many older people who go to the Flower Show every year,” Michalik said. “They’re still high risk [for contracting the coronavirus]. And then they’re also out there in the heat. I couldn’t stop thinking about that.”
Update: June 8, 11:55 a.m.: This article was updated to include comments from Hannah Ryann and Deborah Villafane.