Rose's Roses Video and Audio
A woman has been selling roses under a highway overpass for the past 10 years. Produced by Oliver DiNallo, Elliot Williams, Jeffery Ng, Will Offit, and David Kilgallon.
Text by: Elliot Williams and Jeffrey Ng
A middle-aged woman wearing a Marines hat is dropped off in a gray truck early Wednesday morning. She kisses her boyfriend goodbye, and unloads her products. An old wooden chair, pad-locked to a light pole, awaits her. While she lights a cigarette, car noises are amplified by the close quarters of the overpass she sits under. Five days out of the week she greets men and women in passing vehicles with a smile, a wave, and an occasional, "hola papa!" in her Philadelphian accent.
Maryann Smith, better known as the 'Rose Lady', is a woman who brings joy to passersby while selling roses, water, and teddy bears at 6th and Vine. Her warm personality attracts many customers. She mentions that being a woman helps as well- "They take a look at the girl and say, 'Oh my God! I forgot to get my girl roses.'" Coincidentally, the rose business provides a romantic setting where Maryann was able to meet her boyfriend of two and a half years. He sells roses on Penrose Avenue.
She works from 10:00 am to 7:30 pm, all the while sitting in her wooden chair, debris blowing in the wind. In describing her typical day, Maryann explains, "I get bored sometimes. And then I sit, have a cigarette, chill out a little bit..." While boredom is somewhat unavoidable, there are many fascinating instances in her seven years under the viaduct that she remembers vividly. "Guy went through the red light, hit one car [that] spun over there. Another car spun and hit over here," she recalls while pointing to a wall directly behind her. In fact, Maryann says she's seen "things that would make your hair curl." While a few people have hassled her over the years, she points out that since the "whole sixth [police] district" knows her, she's well protected. "The police officers around here have been really great," she says.
Maryann's parents died while she was in her 40's. For five years, she had to take care of her mother, who had cerebral aneurisms. When she passed away in 1993, Maryann had only her father and two younger brothers, making her the only female in the family. Maryann's father was a Marine, as well as a barber, whom she describes as "the rock that held [them] all together." Sadly, he developed brain cancer and died in 1996. "When he passed away it wasn't right," Maryann sadly remarks.
Earning only 25% of the sales, the future of her business is tenuous. The economy is taking its toll as well. "It's not like it used to be," she says. Despite the rough patch of business and the road bumps of her past, Maryann's spirits remain high. She even shared her opinion on football. "I love the Pittsburgh Steelers! I'm a big Steelers fan from back in the day." Whether she's reflecting on the sports world, waving to passing vehicles, or simply drinking her morning coffee, Maryann always wears a smile.