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Family-owned Azteca Bridal in Phoenix closes after 60 years

Bertha Gonzalez bought her wedding dress from Azteca Bridal in 1967. In the store’s last two weeks of operation, she came back this month for her great-granddaughter’s quinceañera dress.

“This was a bridal shop for all of Arizona, especially for us … the Mexican people,” Gonzalez said.

Azteca, which closed its doors this week after 60 years of service, began selling quinceañera dressing around 1972 as the demand for them grew along with the Latino population in Phoenix.

The business, a staple in the Phoenix bridal and quinceañera industry, remained family-owned for the entirety of its operation.

“If the doors are open, somebody in the family had to be here. It wasn’t a case that we were going to be distant owners,” said Raoul Torrez, Azteca Bridal co-owner. “Somebody from the family got to be here and that was pretty much a guiding principle up until today.”

Torrez reminisced about the thousands of customers Azteca served, taking the last few weeks of business operation to celebrate their stories. In the last week of operation, everything in the store is 70% off, and all existing orders will be fulfilled.

Building from the old gym floor up

Torrez’s mother and father, Kay and Adolfo Torrez, opened the bridal shop in 1962 near 10th and Washington streets. They previously ran a restaurant, flower shop, furniture store and more – bringing the family’s business legacy to over 70 years.

“My parents, they’re the ones that went through the struggles and making sure that things started working well and operating good,” Torrez said.

Kay and Adolfo Torrez met in a nightclub in Phoenix, where Kay was a photographer.

She was business savvy from running a photography business with her father, and Adolfo was the “strong man behind the strong woman,” Raoul Torrez said.

They did not envision working for someone else, leading them to open a restaurant. The building they chose in downtown Phoenix already had a sign that lit up “Azteca Cafe,” and the name stuck.

He said his father was the one who decided to go into the bridal business and told his mother, who didn’t know anything about sewing, “You’re smart, you don’t need to sew, you can get other people to sew.”

Kay Torrez took on many of the day-to-day operations of selling formalwear and working with customers, and Adolfo Torrez would do the cooking, shopping and washing.

“He was basically the first Mr. Mom. … They were a team,” Raoul Torrez said.

The pair built the building Azteca Bridal still operates in, using the floor from an old gymnasium and lumber from demolition projects with nails still in the wood, Raoul Torrez said.

“My mom would hire guys around here that maybe have a few beers or whatever and pay them to take the nails out of the wood,” Torrez said.

Keeping it in the family

As Kay and Adolfo Torrez aged, they relinquished control of the business to Raoul Torrez; his brother, Gregory Torrez; and his sister, Royna Rosell, in the early 1980s.

All three had worked at the business starting as children and teenagers, when the family lived in an apartment attached to the plaza.

But the siblings didn’t immediately take over the business because their parents, who were always there, just took a step back.

After their parents died, Rosell took on her mother’s role of being in charge of alterations, scheduling employee hours and ordering wedding gowns, while Raoul Torrez stepped into his father’s role of behind-the-scenes work, and Gregory Torrez was in an advisory role.

Kay and Adolfo Torrez were involved in an accident in 1972, which left Adolfo partially paralyzed on his right side.

“But he showed up … every day to the day he passed away,” Raoul Torrez said.

The family sold the property, and the business will close this week. There was no need to sell the “Azteca” name, Raoul Torrez said, as there are so many other stores out there to buy wedding dresses from.

The three siblings are ready for retirement. Raoul Torrez has two small grandchildren to spend time with and traveling to catch up on.

Jenna Rosell, Royna’s granddaughter, grew up at Azteca and works there: “I used to have a playpen here.”

The family component and the connections they made with customers are what made Azteca special, she said.

“Everybody knows that we’re family and it’s not like a chain company, and I feel like we really care for our customers,” she said.

But it’s time for everyone to retire and spend time together outside of work, Jenna Rosell said.

“It was our life and we’re going to miss it, but it’s time to celebrate family.”