Philly’s Four Seasons Total Landscaping dishes the dirt on the news conference heard ’round the world: ‘It was nothing we anticipated’
“Who knew that our garage doors were going to be the back of every Zoom meeting?”
These days, Marie Siravo can’t go anywhere without everybody knowing her business.
She was a thousand miles from home, in a Naples, Fla., Homegoods checkout line last month, when a woman recognized Siravo’s strong Philadelphia accent and said, “How about that landscaping company?”
“I said, ‘I am that landscaping company,’” she replied, laughing.
And now, when Siravo, 65, goes to work at the unassuming one-story redbrick industrial building on State Road, home to Four Seasons Total Landscaping for the last 20 years, “not a day goes by where there’s not a crowd outside.”
But things are different now for everyone at Four Seasons Total Landscaping after President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani hosted an off-the-rails news conference there one sunny Saturday morning in early November.
On Thanksgiving, two sisters met halfway between Bethlehem and New York for a feast outside her office. Another woman brought a small Christmas tree and her children, so they could take a holiday-card photo in front of the green awning. Visitors have lit votive candles and left decorated signs at the barbed-wire fence, staging photo ops. People from across the world have bought her company T-shirts, sending pictures of themselves proudly wearing the Four Seasons logo.
“We’re a Wikipedia now!” Siravo said.
Some have asked Siravo if they could have a party or host weddings at the lot. “This is a construction yard, that’s a liability,” she said, laughing again. “But it did make us paint the back of the building, because we said, ‘Who knew that our garage doors were going to be the back of every Zoom meeting?’”
People have sent cheesesteaks, Domino’s pizza gift cards, beard oil, fruit gift baskets, and more to their front door, while others have stopped foremen on the job to ask for selfies with their truck.
“The response is overwhelming, that there’s still so, so many good people in the world, and they got to laugh with this,” Siravo said Monday from the Four Seasons Total Landscaping conference room. Plastered behind her was a homemade sign featuring photos of Gritty and Giuliani with what is presumably hair dye running down his face. It’s emblazoned with the words Ride or Dye.
“And it was nothing we anticipated.”
By the time Nov. 7 rolled around, Election Day had come and gone from the tidily kept landscaping company building north of the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge, across from a crematorium and nestled next to a sex shop.
Elsewhere in Philadelphia, a ballot-counting Groundhog Day persisted. As workers tallied votes inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center, American-flag-wielding Trump supporters gathered behind barricades outside. Across the street, revelers squeezed accordions, tossed confetti, waved signs, and danced, while international press huddled and the world gritted its teeth awaiting Philadelphia’s vote count — a crucial number in a crucial swing state during the 2020 presidential election.
But 10 miles away, life at Four Seasons Total Landscaping that week centered less on the Electoral College and more on leaf cleanup and snow-removal contracts, as Siravo and her team prepared for winter.
That was, until the Trump campaign came calling.
The phone rang around 8:45 a.m. Saturday, interrupting Sean Middleton’s Bible study in Doylestown. A Trump campaign staffer told the director of sales they were surveying areas along the I-95 corridor, asking if the company would be willing to host a news conference.
Unbeknownst to anyone the international spectacle that would follow — Giuliani standing at a lectern in front of the garage on the dirt and gravel parking lot, making baseless claims about the election while Trump and Biden supporters gathered outside, shouting and honking car horns — Middleton, 34, shrugged and agreed to let the campaign come look.
“We thought it was nonchalant,” he said. “It wasn’t even determined that it would be at Four Seasons Total Landscaping, it was just, ‘Hey, you’re one of the areas.’”
So Middleton drove to Philadelphia to meet Siravo’s son, Michael — the company’s operations manager — and Trump campaign staff at the landscaping office.
After about 10 minutes, Middleton said the Trump staff decided Four Seasons Total Landscaping was the place. By 9:45 a.m., the deal was sealed. “Lawyers Press Conference at Four Seasons, Philadelphia. 11 AM,” the president initially tweeted, before hastily deleting the post.
A new tweet, which would live on in internet infamy, read: “Big press conference today in Philadelphia at Four Seasons Total Landscaping — 11:30am!”
“You know how you can make those fake tweets from Trump’s handle?” Michael Siravo, 32, said. “That’s what I thought it was until my phone started blowing up.”
And though the three say they love laughing at social media theories that they conned the campaign into thinking they were a ritzy Four Seasons hotel, “that’s not the case,” Middleton said. “I gave them the address, I said where we were, where they can meet us, and that was that.”
They think the New York Times’ account of the situation is likely the most accurate — that Giuliani and Trump adviser Corey Lewandowski always intended to have the news conference in Northeast Philadelphia where they would be more warmly received, and that, through a garbled game of telephone, it was the president who misunderstood the location. The Trump campaign did not reply to a request for comment.
Middleton and Michael Siravo helped the campaign staff prepare, moving landscaping equipment and trucks away from the garage door and offering a computer for printing. Finances were never discussed.
“It was a pretty quick setup, I mean, obviously you saw what appeared on TV,” Middleton said.
Marie Siravo was buying bagels in Brigantine when she got the call.
Hustling to Philadelphia, she said State Road was already blocked off when she arrived, and she had to sneak in through a back entrance, climbing atop a construction trailer to ogle at Secret Service members and press corps who had gathered.
“It was like, Somebody pinch us, we can’t even believe this is going on,” she said.
Marie Siravo and her team say it’s not about the politics — they’ve “taken a nonpartisan stance and want to remain neutral.”
“It didn’t matter which side this was,” she said. “We would’ve done this for the Biden campaign. How do you turn down a president or a president-elect, you know what I mean? It was just so exciting that this was here.”
But excitement quickly turned to dread for the Four Seasons team. Almost instantly, Marie Siravo’s phone began ringing incessantly with calls from media around the globe: “Washington Post, USA Today, every news media outlet, the BBC, Netflix, Tucker Carlson, you name it.”
And then came the hate. Critics from both sides left scathing messages, and conspiracy theorists flooded the company’s phone lines, email inboxes, and social media accounts, accusing Four Seasons Total Landscaping of money laundering for the DNC and burning Trump ballots at the crematorium across the street.
By 11 p.m., Michael Siravo and Middleton — friends since college at Gwynedd Mercy — were strategizing their next move, worried about souring their relationship with longtime customers, which include the Philadelphia Airport, Navy Yard, and the PIDC.
On Sunday morning, the pair drafted a statement explaining the company’s neutral stance for social media — punctuated by a distinctly Philadelphia “Go Birds!” — and hoped for the best.
By the afternoon, they decided to sell T-shirts, calling up a friend to spruce up their website and set up an e-commerce platform, ordering 100 shirts in each size. They created Instagram and Twitter accounts and began retweeting jokes about the news conference. And quickly, they said, as the world realized they were in on the joke, the tide began to turn in Four Seasons Total Landscaping’s favor.
“We’re not making any political statements, we’re running with this and enjoying it. … It’s like a magic carpet ride,” said Marie Siravo.
The brains and the humor behind the operation — from tweeting Photoshopped memes of Jared Kushner as an Elf on the Shelf and coining phrases like “in sod we trust” and “lawn and order” — is all her son and Middleton, Marie Siravo said.
“We’re just so enamored with the fact that people think that we hired a social media manager, because it’s just two guys that run a landscaping company and the owner that are coming up with this stuff,” said Middleton. In three weeks, the company has grown a following of 18,100 on Twitter and 26,400 on Instagram.
The merchandise sales of Four Seasons Total Landscaping have taken on a life of their own. The conference room at their office has become a makeshift fulfillment center, as Siravo and the company’s 28 full-time employees take turns bagging orders and printing labels, starting at 6 a.m and racking up overtime hours working long into the night.
Partnering with half a dozen local vendors (all but one is located in the Philadelphia region), the company has sold over 35,000 orders for T-shirts, ugly Christmas sweaters, face masks — totaling $1.3 million in sales. (Much of the money will be used to pay back vendors, shipping costs, and more, Middleton said, making clear that Four Seasons won’t be putting $1.3 million in its bank account.)
Among their more prominent customers, according to shipping information, they said: Philadelphia native Jake Tapper, Mike Myers, and Emma Watson.
In hopes of helping others during Four Season’s moment in the sun, Siravo said the company is participating in a Toys for Tots drive with St. Christopher’s Hospital. Through Dec. 11, visitors can drop off unwrapped toys at the office in exchange for a Four Seasons sticker. Separately, Siravo said the company is also collecting coats, hats, socks, and other cold-weather clothing to donate to local charity.
And though the surge in the region’s coronavirus cases have put a damper on plans to treat the company’s staff to a holiday dinner at the other Four Seasons — the hotel in Center City — the three said they are determined to make it happen eventually.
Last year, Middleton said, the company toyed with the idea of selling the Holmesburg office and moving to a larger location, but now that the construction yard has become a tourist attraction and an online petition is circulating to designate the office a historical landmark, “it’s just like, how could you ever get rid of this place, you know?”
As for the “total landscaping” name, Marie Siravo said that when she incorporated the business in 1992, she originally wanted to call it “Four Seasons Landscaping,” but had to add another word to the title, since there were others with the same name.
“You know, a lot of companies don’t do snow, don’t do irrigation, don’t do planning,” she said. “So that’s where ‘total’ came from.”
Now, 28 years later, Middleton joked, those services extend to press conferences.