The framed photo on the wall of Don Lopez’s office captured the moment when — fifty years go this week — his father, Bernie Lopez, officially opened the doors of his new florist shop at the corner of Adams and Saranac streets. Bernie, who learned the trade from his dad — a Sicilian immigrant — moved the family business to Adams Corner from Roxbury after being displaced by an urban renewal project.
He scouted locations across Boston’s neighborhoods and found a shoebox variety store space with a basement big enough for his workspace and a cooler. Three Dorchester state reps are in the 1962 ribbon-cutting photo— along with Don’s mother, Theresa, who played a key role in running the store in those days. The first dollar bill spent in the florist shop – from the pocketbook of Helen Clancy – is framed alongside the photo.
“They’re all gone now: Gigi Kenneally, Tom Sheehan, my dad,” says Don Lopez, 58, surveying the photo. The lone living member of the lineup, Mrs. Lopez, now lives in a nursing home in Florida.
Bernie Lopez died in May 2010 after spending several happy retirement years in Florida with his bride. Today, Don runs the operation alongside the fourth generation of Lopez men in the Boston flower trade: his sons Donnie, 26, and Mike, 24, who came to work in the family business right out of high school.
“I want these guys to learn the business so I can sneak out of here a little more,” says Don with a laugh. He himself started working in the Adams Village shop as a teenager in 1967.
The florist business has changed significantly over the intervening years: The internet and 800 numbers have pruned down the walk-in trade at small shops like this one. Even holidays like Easter aren’t what they once were, according to Lopez, who can remember that the store would be swarming with customers after Masses let out at the local parishes.
“It’s not like that any more. People’s tastes have changed,” he said. “When my father ran the place, there wasn’t a single inch of open shelf space in here. Nowadays, we don’t need all that inventory. People aren’t looking for the silk flowers anymore. It has hit all the mom and pop stores that way. We’ve had to adjust and do more online ourselves.”
The Lopez store is much bigger these days. In 1967, five years after moving to Dorchester, Bernie had done well enough to buy the building and expand its footprint to its current size.
What keeps Lopez strong these days, Don says, is a loyal customer base that keeps turning to this family at the times when they’re needed most. “The heart of our business is weddings and funerals. We have done weddings for three generations for some families,” Lopez says. “And we’re well established with corporate accounts, the police and fire. We give anyone who has a badge a break in here.”
Like many retail businesses, Lopez’s day gets started before dawn, in his case with a trip into the Boston Flower Exchange near South Bay. He is there by 5 o’clock to get the select choice of flowers and plants to stock his two massive refrigeration units in the basement of the Adams Street building.
“It’s a funny business, because you never really know what a given day will be like,” muses Lopez. “Some days you’ll come in and the phones will be off the hook.”
On days like that, Lopez leans on his key employee for the last 37 years, designer Steven Pizzarrella, an Adams Corner native who himself started working in the shop as a teenager. Pizzarrella isn’t technically family, but he’s as close as it gets. Along with Don’s two sons— who also design bouquets and arrangements— the four-man team keeps a regular two-truck delivery service going on normal days. In the high season— Valentine’s and Mother’s Day, for example— they contract out to as many as 10 other drivers.
“We all do everything here, from answering the door to designing casket covers,” says Don.
His father would be proud to see that the small storefront he passed along to his son is destined for the hands of the next generation of Lopez boys. “He’d be thrilled,” Don says of his dad. “He was such a great mentor and teacher to me. I never went to floral school. He just told me, keep your eyes open and watch what I do. That’s how he learned, too, from his father.
“It’s still truly a personal business. When someone loses someone, that’s when you want to speak with a familiar voice, someone you know and trust, not some 800 operator. That’s the part of the florist business that will never change. That’s when the tradition kicks in.”
Don thinks that, in time, his sons will take the family business to new heights. He has no immediate plans to retire, but does look forward to more spring days out on the golf course.
“This neighborhood has been great to us. It really hasn’t changed too much, either,” he says, adding that he misses some of the other small businesses that used to share the block, like the hardware store. “It’s still a great base and great place to do business.”