Unable to welcome customers into the store one last time, it was a quiet end to an eventful era for Caruso & Company.
Caruso & Company, which was founded by Anthony Caruso as a wholesale produce business in 1913, closed their doors for the final time on Friday, January 22.
Initially slated to close effective January 15, fourth generation owner Mike Caruso extended the goodbye for another week as customers, many of whom were second, third or fourth generations themselves, came by for a final bouquet or flowers or that last minute home décor touch.
“It has been hectic and surprisingly busy for a pandemic,” Mr. Caruso told The Auroran on January 15 just after extending their run. “Add into that trying to clean and finish up. We’re selling our inventory, but now we’re selling our fixtures. A lot of odd stuff went on Facebook Marketplace, things you’re not necessarily going to sell in the store, and it has been hectic for sure.”
Manager Sue Wilbur said they sold their last flower, once the mainstay of the business, on January 14.
“We had to finish that early because we had nothing left,” said Ms. Wilbur, noting that in the home stretch people were not only knocking on their doors and tapping on their windows to say farewell, but writing nice letters as well.
“I don’t know if there is anything we didn’t realize about what our business meant to the community,” says Mike, picking up the thread, “but we didn’t know the degree. We knew we were part of people’s lives – and, no doubt, we were sending them things, everything from a new baby, to birthdays, to funerals and weddings, get well, and everything in between. You know you had an effect on people’s lives and they have been saying they remember coming in as kids, we did their mom’s wedding and now we were doing theirs. It has been a lifetime experience.”
The same can be said for generations of the Caruso family.
After Anthony first opened their Yonge Street doors nearly 108 years ago to distribute wholesale products to local stores and surrounding communities, operations expanded in the 1930s to include Mary’s Fruit Store which was run by his daughters, Mary and Rose. Son Frank joined his dad in the wholesale enterprise.
Expansion was on the horizon once again by the end of the 1950s and the start of a new decade brought further expansion with the opening of Mary’s Flower Shop, which was operated by Frank’s wife, Phyllis.
Frank and Phyllis’ son, Mike, joined the family business in 1997 after a career as a contractor and carpenter. Focus then shifted towards the flower business and, with the help of Ms. Wilbur, expanded towards home décor, giftware, greeting cards, and more.
Making the decision to retire from the business, Mr. Caruso stresses, was not due to any downturn in business stemming from COVID-19. Rather, it had been on the horizon for the last few years. Nevertheless, winding down a business after more than a century was nothing short of an emotional experience.
Caruso’s, says Ms. Wilbur, meant something different to each customer, whether they were buying flowers, coming in to get an apple as a kid, or finding the perfect ornament for their Christmas tree.
“Customers now feel like it is their place, which is what we wanted. And this is how we feel, too,” she says. “It was like they were guests or family coming into our home here and that is how we felt. Now we know that is how they felt too, and that’s why we are crying.”
Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran