Flowers power generosity
Carl Larese, Emmaus donor

By LIZ ALLEN
Carl Larese knows the value of mentors and the beauty of paying it forward, and both have influenced his support of Emmaus Ministries.

The owner of Larese Floral Design, 3857 Peach Street, Carl, 58, found his calling professionally at age 17 when he worked at the former Bachelor Button flower shop at West 10th and Cherry streets. He rode his bike there from his family’s home on West 21st Street.

“I started as driver, delivering flowers, cleaning up,” says Carl. But Bobby Wurst, owner of Bachelor Button, told Carl, “You’d be more valuable to me in the store than out in the truck,” he recalls.

As Carl discovered the joy that a beautiful bouquet can bestow, he “fell in love with flowers,” he says.

Carl later worked for Joe Wieczorek at Bridal Flower Shop at East 14th and Wallace streets. “He was very supportive of the soup kitchen and of Emmaus and when he got sick, I told Sister Mary Miller, ‘I’ll pick up where he left off,’” he says.

He opened his own flower business on Easter Sunday, 1998, at West 26th and Myrtle streets. He’s been at his Peach Street location for nine years.

The two florists who helped shape his career are both gone now, but Carl says that his customers see their influence in his work. “People remember me (from those shops) and they can see both of their styles in my arrangements. That’s quite a compliment, because those gentlemen were very talented. In a way, they’re living on.”
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“Flowers brighten anyone’s day,” says Carl. “I love seeing people’s faces when they open the door (for a delivery).”

His donated decorations set the mood at fundraisers, such as “Taste of the Arts” at Neighborhood Art House, and at special holiday gatherings at Emmaus Soup Kitchen. And at everyday meals at Emmaus, where diners are always welcomed as guests, bud vases add to that spirit of hospitality.

In Erie, Carl also spearheads Good Neighbor Day, sponsored nationally on the first Wednesday in September by FTD.

On that day, customers receive a dozen free flowers and are asked to keep one for themselves and to give the 11 remaining flowers to 11 other people.

Carl has participated in the promotion for 14 years, but a few years ago, he decided to put a “new spin” on Good Neighbor Day. He asked his customers to donate a nonperishable food item or paper product or to give a monetary gift to Emmaus. For the most recent event, he collected 700 pounds of food.

In addition to donating to Emmaus, he has served on the board of the Erie Philharmonic, just finished his term as president of the Erie Playhouse Board, and is involved in the Erie Wolves Club, which provides college scholarships.