Nestled below an imposing billboard for Stella Artois on 20th and I streets, Tony’s Place rests after 32 years in business. The product of hard work, hope and the worn hands of a Greek family, it seems fitting that the journey of this shop should end on Valentine’s Day.
Tony Boudouvas, 76, began trading on the corner before the physical shop existed. Having been drafted into the Greek army reserve at age 20, Boudouvas arrived in America in 1956 from Greece and spent the next 13 years bringing his six brothers and sisters to join him – doing “anything I could do to bring them over.” He lived with his wife Anastasia in New York City selling flowers and working in small shops before moving to the District in 1969 for better schools.
“Everything must go!” and “Final sale!” signs held prominent positions in the windows of Tony’s Place Monday. Similar to the past three decades, the final day was a family affair with Boudouvas’ daughters Rebecca and Constantina, son Panos and grandson Anthony all handling the inevitable Valentine’s Day bustle by answering phones, wrapping and cutting flowers and loading bouquets. The holiday has always been the shop’s busiest and most successful day, with the romantically minded GW students and local residents paying “all the bills for the year.”
In more recent years, Tony’s Place has primarily been a flower shop, but in its 32-year existence it has sold a vast array of objects and necessities.
“We sold magazines in order to survive and got money from selling key duplicates,” Boudouvas said, noting the need to stay afloat amongst local competition.
His son Panos – who has been involved with the shop since childhood – helped to construct its very frame as a 10-year-old and said nasal spray, ChapStick, aspirin, tobacco and passport photos were also part of the shop’s history.
“He still works 6 days a week,” Panos said of his father, who arrived at the shop at 4:30 a.m. on its last day.
Inside are large wicker shelves with objects as diverse as a china cardinal, glass grapes and framed photographs of Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis and former President John F. Kennedy. The variety of knickknacks were just as much a part of the shop as flowers – making Tony’s Place a one-of-a-kind store reflecting a collection of historical moments and memories of an American family.
In 2001, the Boudouvas family was invited by former President Bill Clinton to visit the White House as part of a presentation of families of the United States. Framed photographs of that day adorn the back wall in celebration of life in America and as a reminder that the shop is a staple of Washington, D.C.
Over the years, GW students have become part of Tony’s Place’s extended family due to the shop’s close proximity to campus.
“I would say to the students if you’re ever in trouble just to come to me,” Boudouvas said.
The vibrant clouds of yellow, pink and red roses stood tall and ready to be given away amongst a throng of customers, most of them regulars expressing their surprise and sadness at the closing. Students were also there to witness the shop’s final day.
“I’ve only been here a couple of times to get flowers, but it’s sad that such a historical place is closing its doors,” junior Andrew Sweeney said.
Boudouvas and his family created the neighborhood staple with hard work and dedication.
“Every day, to get wherever you want to go, be honest, work hard and, most importantly, have a dream,” Boudouvas advises.