At a well-traveled intersection in Tucson’s Barrio Hollywood, a large yellow sign that has enticed local residents for decades reads: West Boutique Florist. It is scarred by time and some stray graffiti.
Inside the small shop are tables, cabinets and shelves that are filled with religious merchandise. The walls are filled with awards, certificates and newspaper clippings. There is also a drawing of a skeleton sitting on a bench, with a saying, “Waiting for the Perfect Man.” To its right is an autographed picture of the actor Lou Diamond Phillips.
There is not a natural flower in sight.
Over the 52 years in business, the owner, Josefina Prado Lizarraga, has learned to adapt to suit the changing times and demands of her customers. She has provided floral arrangements for many special events at churches, schools and hospitals in the area. She has also given advice and solace to those in need and sold countless religious artifacts.
The shop has helped put her four children through private school, and established her as one of the pillars of the community. But Ms. Prado Lizarraga has decided to close the shop; its last open day will be May 31.
“I am way too old now,” she said in an interview at her shop, at St. Mary’s Road and North Cherokee Ave. (Ms. Prado Lizarraga said she was not sure of her age, but believed it was 75.) None of her children, she said, wanted to carry on the family business.
When she opened the florist shop around 1963, she said she was one of the first businesses in the area. Since then, she has seen her neighborhood develop and change. The first burst of activity, she said, was spurred when Pima Community College opened nearby, and a flurry of retail soon followed.
At first, she was content to sell flowers alone, but she began noticing that many people in her community would travel all the way to Nogales, Mexico, to buy authentic Mexican supplies for their weddings, first communions and other religious occasions.
She realized that she could easily purchase these items herself and widen her clientele by selling the religious supplies in her flower shop. Now the shop offers a vast range of religious merchandise and trinkets: wedding lassos, saints and flowers made from tissue paper.
“It was the clients who built up my business,” Ms. Prado Lizarraga said in Spanish. Customers would ask her if she sold other items like cake toppers and Bibles, she said.
Customer requests were also sometimes honored, she said, as she would expand her store’s offerings to meet the demand.
The building will stay in the family: One of her sons will convert it to a real estate office. Nonetheless, she said that she feels sad because the store’s closing will mean one less religious shop in the area, at a time when few exist.
“When they come here it is because they have religious needs,” she said. “People come here crying, looking for luck. I’ve had a girl come here on the verge of suicide.”
Ms. Prado Lizarraga does not fully wish to close her flower shop, but has come to accept that it is time.
“I changed diapers, cooked beans, baby-sat and had kids running around,” she said, reminiscing about the time she spent with her family at the store.
She said she planned to spend more time as a volunteer at churches and for Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace, a group that, in part, is working on redeveloping the Mission Garden in Tucson. Closing the doors to West Boutique Florist, she said, does not mean that she will stop helping her community.