Friday, April 19, 2024

Shoppers browse Brattle Square Florist in Harvard Square in October 2018. (Photo: Jie L. via Yelp)

Brattle Square Florist will close on Jan. 31 after more than a century in business, owner Randy Ricker said Monday in a Harvard Square Business Association email.

The timing is not accidental: After more than a century, the Harvard Square store will wind down operations in January because “I do not believe that we can meet the demands of Valentine’s Day in February, traditionally our busiest time,” said Ricker, who bought Brattle Square Florist nine years ago.

The pandemic has taken its toll, as business challenges continue to mount “and we are struggling to maintain our margins,” Ricker said, pointing to dramatic increases in the cost of plants, flowers and other store items. “Availability of product has never been more challenging. We are not able to attract and retain staff.”

The condition of the physical space at 31 Brattle St. is also deteriorating and will need repairs, and Ricker said he was also simply exhausted: “I have not had Thanksgiving dinner with my family in nine years. I’ve had one Sunday off in 20 months. I have frequently worked 30- to 40-day stretches without a break. Simply put, I can’t sustain this effort.”

Theodora M. Skeadas, executive director of the small-business group Cambridge Local First, said the announcement reflects troublesome trends faced by many of the organization’s businesses.

“Rising product prices and rents, ongoing supply chain issues, a widespread and growing labor shortage and an ever-changing regulatory environment amidst pandemic uncertainties have all complicated the business environment for these small operators. Further, as Randy noted, business owner burnout is real: Our business owners have worked nonstop throughout the pandemic, often forced to serve as bouncers to their own businesses when customers refuse to wear masks indoors despite mask mandates, and are experiencing real fatigue,” Skeadas said. “These institutions, though cherished, are fragile.”

Denise Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association called it “sad news for Harvard Square, for their customers and for everyone who had the pleasure of passing by” the cool oasis of the store. Her email included an elegy for the store:

Our cherished flower shop is always cool and dark even on the brightest and hottest days. Its floor is always littered with discarded plant material and colorful clippings. Seasonal selections are always displayed on the sidewalk out front. For the past 104 years, from quiet moments to life’s most joyous celebrations, flowers from Brattle Florist have laid witness. We bid our friends a sad farewell and thank them for a century of service. We hope they get the rest they so richly deserve. The loss of our unique little shop will be lamented and grieved … and while our dear shopkeepers will be sorely missed, we truly wish them all the best.

The store was founded by George, Stavros and John Gomatos in 1917 as Gomatos Brothers Fresh Produce, according to the store website. Flowers were always on sale at the store, turning into a thriving business that in 1973 took the lead as the shop was renamed Brattle Square Florist.

Ricker said it was “possible that Brattle Square Florist Inc. will be reconstituted,” but that there were no plans.

“To our loyal customers, many of whom have shopped here for decades, this will be disappointing news,” Ricker said. “I know how much you appreciate what we do and how much love you have for our store … I know this because you tell us every day. You have been extraordinarily generous with your praise and appreciation, and it has been the sustaining fuel that has carried us for so many years. I really can’t thank you enough.”

The florists is within the 17-41A Brattle St. bloc of properties sold by the Dow and Stearns family trust for $108 million in December 2017 to Asana, a North Carolina real estate investment company. When the Harvard Crimson reported on the properties in May 2020, reporters Jasper G. Goodman and Hannah J. Martinez found that “when Asana bought the Brattle St. buildings, 11 of its ground-floor storefronts housed locally owned businesses. Less than three years later, five of those local businesses have been shuttered or moved – and all but one of them have been replaced by national chains.” Brattle Square Florist will be the sixth closing.

“We grieve the tremendous loss of diverse local and independent business ownership in Cambridge these past two years,” Skeadas said, calling Brattle Square Florist “the newest closure to an ever-growing list.”

Harvard Square has a remaining florist at Petali Flowers, 92 Mount Auburn St.

This post took significant amounts of material from a press release.