By Steve Bigham Republican-American
NAUGATUCK — Terry Raimo first began selling flowers, plants and, for a time, fresh produce and meats in 1972 from a parking lot on Rubber Avenue, a business that eventually grew to become a household name in town. Customers came in droves to buy quality products from a man who always had a smile on his face, a willingness to help others and a kind word for everyone.
Raimo is celebrating his 50th anniversary, now at his current location along Old Firehouse Road, and while Raimo admits there was nothing like his beloved Rubber Avenue location when his business was known as “Terry’s Farm Market” or “Flowers Plus,” he’s happy and grateful to continue to be up and running, somewhat healthier now after bouts with cancer, heart attacks, spinal meningitis and post-polio syndrome.
Raimo says he remains ready and willing to serve a community he says has been supportive since day one.
“My kids tell me I should retire, but if something happens to me, at least I’m going to go out doing something that I love, because I love this; the people, the flowers, the friendships, the community. I love everything about this town,” Raimo said as he sat in his chair, outside and under a tent, surrounded by a variety of flowers in the parking lot of the former Datacom building.
As he spoke, customers would stop in with friends just to say “hi” or to congratulate him after seeing his signs announcing the anniversary.
On a recent Saturday, Raimo held a daylong celebration where he welcomed old friends and new, along with former employees. He said he hired hundreds of them over the years.
“Back in the day, we’d have to hire a police officer on the weekends because there were so many cars,” Raimo said of his business, which, until he closed that location down five years ago, was a part of the Naugatuck landscape.
Naugatuck resident, Marty Lee, a member of the town’s Garden Club, recalls those days and says people couldn’t drive by without stopping in and finding something, whether they planned to or no.
“It was because of him,” she said, pointing to her old friend, who is on dialysis now and, as Lee points out, smokes too much.
But that’s Terry, she says, and Naugatuck has been fortunate to have a local business owner like him all these years.
“Whenever I drive by, I always toot my horn to Terry,” Lee said. “He’s a special person who the people in this town have always enjoyed doing business with.”
Raimo, who was also a sheriff and marshal for 35 years, admits his journey has not been an easy one and he is still unsure how he made it this far, but at 74, he’s still going, not able to walk more than a few steps and his fragile health always an issue, but still there, everyday.
Perhaps it’s the work ethic that his parents instilled in him years ago, showing, by their example, the importance of fair pricing, generosity, relationships and honesty. Successful grocers, who owned two supermarkets, as did his uncle, who owned Antonelli’s Market in Waterbury, it was through them that Raimo became a skilled meat cutter in his early years before going to college and later opening several small grocery stores around the state, some more successful than others.
But it was the day he found his spot at 129 Rubber Ave. that changed everything, a place that Raimo still refers to as his “baby.”
“I was born in Waterbury and grew up in Middlebury, but in those days, kids went to high school in Naugatuck,” Raimo recalled. “I would be riding on the bus and look out the window at the spot on Rubber Avenue and think to myself, ‘that’s a great place to start a business.’ And that’s what I did.”
Raimo went out of his way to give credit to the late Rita Grandpre, his girlfriend of many years, for playing such a big role in the business. Her son, Jeff, still helps out.
“I thank the good lord everyday for giving me yesterday and to ask him to help me get through today,” Raimo said.
Terry’s is open every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.