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BUSINESSES WITH STAYING POWER - December 1, 2007 - The Globe and Mail

The long-lasting bloom of Tidy's

Toronto's oldest florist has had some spectacular ups and downs in 130 years, reports Deirdre Kelly

tidys flowers
"9/11 changed the floral business completely," says Janet Lye of Tidy's Flowers, her with brother Jim. Kevin Van Passen/The Globe and Mail

When the Twin Towers collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001, the reverberation echoed thousands of kilometres away. Besides the human tragedy, there were economic costs that no one could have foreseen. After the downswings in the financial markets and the travel industry, the ripples kept moving till, almost inexplicably, they nearly toppled the floral business.

"That first Christmas following the attacks, our sales fell by 25 per cent," says Janet Lye of Toronto's Tidy's Flowers, which has been in business since 1877. Ms. Lye is a third-generation florist, who, with her brother, Jim, runs Tidy's out of the company's headquarters and warehouse at 526 Richmond St. E., near Parliament. She was recounting a setback in a successful family business that is celebrating its 130th anniversary this year, unfolding through various celebrations in retail outlets at Brookfield Place, Commerce Court and Richmond Street East during the holiday season.

"9/11 changed the floral business completely, because it radically altered the corporate climate," Ms. Lye says. "It had an effect on their discretionary spending. In other words, I think they saw flowers, anything that wasn't business-related, [as] a non-essential."

Tidy's also had to overcome the SARS effect. When the epidemic hit Toronto in April, 2003, hospitals prohibited the delivery of flowers. "A big part of our business was sending flowers to hospitals," Ms. Lye says. "When they stopped letting us in, people created different habits of giving."

But when you've been in business from the horse-and-buggy age to the tech age, you're bound to encounter some growth challenges.

The company's first storefront opened at King and Bay in 1913, operated by the siblings' grandfather, Elliott Lye, who had bought the business from its founder, Stephen Tidy, an English gardener who had been his godfather. Mr. Tidy owned a greenhouse on Ontario Street, where he grew roses for delivery to Rosedale clients. Mr. Lye cemented a relationship with the carriage trade by staking out a presence at the city's financial crossroads. It was the move that established Tidy's as the florist to corporate Canada.

"Everything was there, the banks, the businesses. It's how Tidy's grew," Ms. Lye says.

Their father Nick (who recently passed away) relocated Tidy's, in 1964, to an 8,000-square-foot flower depot on Richmond Street East, where he installed one of the industry's first centralized delivery systems. "No one had thought of it then, and it revolutionized the industry," Mr. Lye observes.

"It was no longer just a flower shop," his sister continues "but a production centre, with the entire operations, accounting, design, phones, distribution, all under one roof."

"He was an innovator," Mr. Lye says.

The availability of - and people's taste in - flowers has also been influenced by technological advances.

"Way back when, when the trends were based on what was available, and what you could grow locally came from greenhouses attached to the business, roses were popular. With the advent of cars and trucks, people started bringing things up from southern locations and that's when you started to notice things like Birds of Paradise popping up in bouquets," Ms. Lye says.

"And when there was air freight, you could get tulips from Holland." So after the sixties, the flower business really started to change.

Although the past few years have been unsettled, sales have clawed their way back up to pre-9/11 levels, with revenues expected to exceed $3.6-million by year's end.

Valentine's Day remains the biggest windfall, with more than $140,000 worth of business - or more than 1,000 deliveries - done on Feb. 14 alone.

"People send flowers to express an emotion, to say what they can't say, or are not there to say: Congratulations, or I'm sorry - or I love you," says Ms. Lye.


Tidy's Flowers - Creating beautiful memories since 1877 A Bright Future Built On Solid Roots

A Bright Future Built On Solid Roots

The brother and sister team of Jim and Janet Lye have successfully managed Tidy's Flowers and transformed it into a flower business ready for the 21st Century. The newest Tidy's location opened in 1997 at BCE Place, and boasts a European style shop catering to the corporate elite in downtown Toronto. Presently, Tidy's Flowers keeps a permanent staff of 19, with that number increasing to over 50 during the peak seasons. With the flower business in their blood, Janet and Jim attribute their achievements to their customer driven focus, and the combination of first rate business skills with a passion for flowers. Award winning floral designs, world-wide shipping, a toll-free number, same day service, and now online catalogue shopping are just a few of the reasons Tidy's Flowers is Toronto's principal flower provider.

The Early Years of Toronto's Oldest Flower Shop

TidysIndustrialism, the beginning of ragtime, the “penny-farthing” bicycle, and the close of the classical Victorian period characterized North America in the late 1800s. Toronto in the late 19th century looked forward to a bright future with rapid expansion, early immigration, and the opening of S. Tidy and Sons Limited, a family business that was to become a great Canadian tradition in floral retailing and customer service.

This story of Tidy's begins with British native and skilled gardener, Stephen Tidy, who came to Canada in 1873. Tidy built a small suburban greenhouse at 477 Ontario Street where he operated as a grower until 1877, at which time demand required he officially open the retail business S. Tidy and Sons Limited.

The very first Tidy's location was located on King Street West. From 1913 - 1964, Tidy's Flowers operated from this central Toronto location which is now the site of The Toronto Dominion Centre. Few could have guessed then that what started as a modest greenhouse, was a business that would survive two World Wars, the Depression, and now, the Technological Age.

Tidy's three sons, Stephen, William, and Charles worked by their father's side and in 1890 they opened a second flower shop on Yonge Street. Charles eventually built a greenhouse on Bleeker Street where he could cultivate roses in a controlled environment. This rose greenhouse was the first of its kind in Canada and served as a prototype for future rose growers across the country. The business would expand even further when middle son William opened yet another greenhouse, this time on Wellesley Street.

Although Stephen Tidy Senior passed on in 1896, his legacy remained and another store was opened on King Street, the same place where the Toronto Dominion Centre stands today. It was about this time that young Elliott Lye began cycling around the streets of Toronto delivering flowers as one of the city's first couriers. After starting in 1910, Elliott worked his way up the ranks until his hard work and loyalty paid off and he was appointed to the board of directors in 1933.

Tidys Flowers In the 1930s the bicycle couriers made room for Tidy's first motorized delivery vehicle, the American Austin van. Costing about $600 at the time, this smart little car could be seen zipping around town, getting 48 miles to the gallon.

Keeping It All Tidy's

Charles Tidy, the last of the founding sons, died in 1947. Elliott then purchased the company and was named President in 1948. True to his history and success with the Tidy family, Elliott kept the Tidy name. Elliott knew then that the Tidy name had become synonymous with quality products, inspiring arrangements, and superior customer service.

Although still very much a family business, those responsible for Tidy's success over the last 50 years have been the Lye Family. Elliott's son Nick, an engineer with General Electric, came home to the business in 1951, and 13 years later bought out his father. By this time Tidy's Flowers had grown to include three retail outlets in Toronto, two of which are the present shop locations at 526 Richmond St. East, and Commerce Court.

Nick Lye became President, with younger brother Douglas at his side, after their father's death in 1974. As the brothers prepared for their retirement, Janet Lye, Elliott's granddaughter, left her managing position to become the new President of Tidy's Flowers in 1983. Janet's brother Jim soon followed suit and, leaving a lengthy career with The Royal Bank, joined his sister to serve as VP. Nick has not completely retired from Tidy's Flowers and continues his involvement by acting as a floral industry consultant.

Crossing three centuries, Tidy's Flowers has endured countless historical moments. Tidy's was there continuously serving the people of Toronto during such times as man's first walk on the moon, and when the vote was finally granted to women. And now, as Toronto's oldest retail flower business, Tidy's prepares to celebrate its own 130th Anniversary and looks forward to many more!