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Brattle Square Florist closing its doors after 105 years

Yet another Harvard Square small business hangs it up, battered by the pandemic.

Susan Donnelly from Arlington, a decades-long customer, came to the shop to pick up some flowers. Brattle Square Florist is closing after 105 years of business in Harvard Square.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Nearly every day for the last nine years, Randy Ricker has come into Brattle Square Florist, the 105-year-old business in Harvard Square that has been a mainstay for customers seeking bouquets for weddings, funerals, and any event in between.

With sprays of colorful blooms spilling from buckets in its long and narrow space and a scent so sweet you can smell it just walking by, Brattle Square built a loyal clientele over the years. Some customers have been stopping by for decades since it was owned by the Gomatos family, descendants of George, Stavros, and John Gomatos, who opened Gomatos Brothers Fresh Produce in 1917.

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But by the end of January, the buckets will be empty and the stems swept away. Brattle Square Florist is closing up shop.

“I know how much you appreciate what we do and how much love you have for our store at 31 Brattle St.,” Ricker wrote in an e-mail to customers announcing the closure last week. “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.”

Ricker, who declined an interview request, wrote he has no regrets about buying and running the shop. But it’s become more difficult in recent years. Plants and flowers have become harder to procure and much more expensive, cutting into the margins needed to run the business. Hiring has gotten harder, as it has for many other businesses lately. The store itself needs repairs.

“The prospect of continuing operations during an ongoing and unpredictable pandemic is daunting,” he wrote.

He also acknowledged that the work sometimes came at a personal cost.

A view from above of the florist shop with longtime employee Stephen Zedros, who checked on a flower arrangement.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

“I have not had Thanksgiving dinner with my family in 9 years,” he wrote to customers. “I’ve had one Sunday off in 20 months. I have frequently worked 30-40 day stretches without a break. Simply put, I can’t sustain this effort.”

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Given those challenges, and faced with a daunting and usually hectic Valentine’s Day season approaching, Ricker decided Jan. 31 would be the shop’s last day. In an e-mail to the Globe, he said he would be leaving the flower business.

“It may be that Brattle Square Florist reconstitutes in different form in which case I’m sure our customers would be delighted,” he said. “At present there are no specific plans for that.”

If that were to happen, it would not be the first time an iconic Harvard Square business was resurrected under new ownership, said Denise Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association. Ricker himself bought the florist shop from the Gomatos family, which had operated it for nearly a century, she noted.

Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe was sold in 2015 by the Cardullo family that had owned and operated it since 1950 to husband-and-wife team Richard and Kim Wilson, who have kept the store running since with few changes even apparent to customers, Jillson said.

Mr. Bartley’s Gourmet Burgers, too, changed hands in 2020, from second-generation owner-operator Bill Bartley to Joshua Huggard. Art and office supply store Bob Slate Stationer was closed in 2011 but returned about a year later when a former customer, Laura E. Donohue, bought it and, with a bit of licensing help from the founder’s two sons, resurrected the store. The World’s Only Curious George Store was revived in 2011 in the space that once held Curious George & Friends, though the bookstore closed for good in 2019.

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Customers Kristina Latino and Arpi Tavil-Shatelyan were helped by employee Stephen Zedros. Owner Randy Ricker stood on the far right.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

If Jillson had her wish, she said, someone might do the same for Brattle Square Florist. Her office was across the street for years, and she enjoyed walking past the shop and smelling the scent that seeped out to the plaza outside. There were many times when the shop supplied last-minute arrangements for the association’s events, she said.

“What I’m praying for is a small miracle, much like what we’ve seen in the past,” Jillson said.

The Harvard Square Business Association is in the early stages of planning a farewell event for Brattle Square Florist at the end of January, Jillson said. It has not yet set a date, and things may change if COVID-related restrictions are reinstated, but the group is hoping to hold an outdoor event to celebrate the shop.

“The outpouring of love and gratitude has been extraordinary,” she said.

Customers, too, have been stopping by to say goodbye. Susan Donnelly of Arlington, who lived in Cambridge for many years and sent arrangements from the store to many friends and loved ones, stopped by with a note about what the shop had meant to her.

“I love the way it smelled, and how pleasant it was in the middle of the busy square to go into this green place,” Donnelly said. “Harvard Square is always changing. We’re resigned to that.”

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Donnelly wrote a sonnet to commemorate the store, lamenting that there’s no floral arrangement you can really send to a florist, and remembering the shop’s “green-strewn, leafy floor”:

“Or how, amidst a charged academic scene,

this shop seemed fixed, serene and sure,

affirming for us only seasonal change,

with bins of bittersweet and lavender outside

and Brattle Square reflected in its door.”


Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at gal.lotan@globe.com or at 617-929-2043.