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Saturday, May 18, 2024
Mori Gardens closing after land sold to developer Benny Marotta

Tonie Mori opens new life chapter and will turn her attention to winery she co-owns


A Niagara-on-the-Lake institution is closing after 45 years.

Mori Gardens Design & Garden Centre is shutting down at the end of the season, after the land the shop operates on was sold, owner Tonie Mori said in an interview at the garden centre on Monday.

Her father-in-law Leno Mori sold the 26-acre property on Friday to developer Benny Marotta's Two Sisters Resorts Corp. for $5 million, Marotta said. One of the requirements of the sale is that the businesses vacate the property, Tonie said.

The property is on the corner of Niagara Stone Road and Concession 4 Road. Another 50 acres of the property was sold in 2019.

The property where Mori Gardens operates has been on the market for a few years and Tonie figured it was just a matter of time. “We knew it was sort of happening but actually happened last Friday.”

The store has been a landmark for people headed into town on Niagara Stone Road, she said.

Her son Miguel said originally they planned to keep the store open, but there was no option to split the land.

“Initially we were planning to just keep going, and then things changed and they wanted the whole property and there was no way for us to split, because it all is one piece of agricultural land.”

Tonie said she tried to split the land about 10 years ago to purchase the two acres the store operates on, “but the region wasn't agreeable because it's agricultural zone or green belt zone and you can only cut off so much.”

It's sort of a happy-sad feeling to close the store, Tonie said. On one hand, Mori Gardens has been more than just a garden centre. It is an experience, an atmosphere and a way to connect with the community.

On the other hand, the 66-year-old said she is ready to retire from the business and focus on her energies on Perridiso Estate Winery, which she co-owns.

“I'm kind of at the age for, you know, I guess retirement time,” she said.

Miguel estimates the garden centre has created more than 2,000 designs and about 15,000 gardens over that time, “Maybe more than that.”

Over the years, the garden centre has also given a lot back to the community through sponsoring events, offering event space and donating to various organizations, he said.

“We estimated probably about a million dollars has gone back to the community throughout those years,” Miguel said.

Tonie said she figures at least $20,000 a year is given back to various charitable organizations, including NOTL Palliative Care and the Rotary Club, through sponsoring its house and garden tours.

The garden centre has also been a big sponsor of Wells of Hope's annual Passion fundraiser and was known for its annual Christmas Palooza and artisan sales.

Miguel, who was the driving force in marketing the garden centre, helping to set up events, seminars, garden courses and bringing the business online during the pandemic, said the business actually has done well during the pandemic.

“We did quite well actually this year. It was wonderful to still see people getting back in their gardens, to everything. We were top 4 per cent on Shopify actually this year. We did quite a lot. We opened up things like consultations online, our rentals. If not for what's happening now, we definitely would have just seen it continue.”

He said the business will spend its final days focused on thanking the community.

“I mean, it's been 45 years. Tonie has owned and operated for 30 years now. Some of our team has been here for that full 30 years,” he said.

Tonie noted about five or six staff members have been there for over 20 years.

Miguel, 33, looks back fondly at memories of growing up at the garden centre, working with his mom and his aunt Joanne Mantini.

“They've all been there pretty much the entire time. It very much is a family business,” he said.

He also remembers customers fondly.

“People don't just walk in and leave, they come back.They're asking questions for years. They come just to eat their lunch even in the back next the pond, or they got their first kitten from here — you know, all those things over the years.”

Some of the garden centre's online courses will continue, Miguel said, just not as the garden centre, and Joanne Young will be continuing as a garden designer.

Both Tonie and Miguel said there are no plans to relocate the business.

Tonie said on top of the energy it takes to move and build the business again in a new location, it just wouldn't be the same.

“It's more than just selling the plants, it's all about the atmosphere, all the things that you do around the gardens. All that make it an experience really to come in,” she said, noting they built all of the buildings and the centre's popular event space by themselves.

“It's unfortunate it couldn't carry on really to new people. But, yeah, it just is that time,” Tonie said.

Miguel said he'll likely still find a way to help local landscapers and garden centres, “especially the information and resources we have.”

“And maybe we'll find ways to do certain little things,” he said. “We're talking about how we can maybe move some of the events and what it looks like afterwards, the Palooza, the wedding events and stuff like that.”

Tonie said while she knows the property sale is a big talking point for people in town, she wants to focus on the garden centre, and thanking the community for years of loyalty.

“We wanted it more to be about the garden centre being a business in Niagara-on-the-Lake for such a long time, and that we so appreciate people's loyalty coming here, the opportunity to get to meet so many people.”

Miguel said it's the same old motto the store has had for years, “Let's grow together.”

“It's the idea we grew as a community — all those events that we did, all the not-for-profit things, everyone's home garden advice.”

They said it's not the end of an era, just the end of a chapter.



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