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Phoenix's Azteca Bridal owner says the decision to retire wasn't easy, pushes back close date

After 60 years of doing business in downtown Phoenix, the family behind Azteca Bridal is closing for good in mid-December — a couple weeks later than originally announced.

Co-owner Raoul Torrez said his father, Adolfo Torrez, was proud of the store being somewhere everyone was welcome.

“My father loved looking out into the parking lot,” said Raoul Torrez. “And it wasn’t the quantity of cars, but the cars themselves. Whether it was a Mercedes, it was a truck, it was a low rider, it was a car that was leaking oil — he was happy about that. Because … we were a melting pot, and he was proud of that.”

The love story that led to Azteca

Torrez said his parents’ love and combined entrepreneurship was what made that possible.

They met when Kay Torrez, a young woman who was new to Phoenix at the time, brought an idea to her father.

“She said, ‘I love photography. Let's start a photography business that goes around to the nightclubs and takes pictures,’” said Raoul Torrez.

Adolfo Torrez had recently returned from serving in the military as part of the flag corps in Washington, D.C., during World War II. He’d called Phoenix home since he was about 13 years old, shining shoes and eventually opening a gambling hall.

“But after he came back from the war,” said Raoul Torrez, “the city had changed.”

So Adolfo began searching for his next business venture.

“Occasionally he would be at nightclubs or whatever,” Raoul Torrez said, “and that's where my mom came in.”

Raoul Torrezsaid that with his mother’s job as a nightclub photographer came a lot of experience with rejection, often being turned down when she asked to take people’s photos.

“But she kept right at it,” he said. “One night she was taking pictures and just like anything, she walked up to a gentleman and asked him if he would like to have his picture taken. He replied saying, ‘No thank you. I don't want to break your camera.’ So she remembered that, like, ‘OK, who is this guy?’”

After some time, Kay returned to the same nightclub with her camera.

“And she noticed this strikingly handsome man,” said Raoul Torrez. “Turns out it was my dad — cleaned up, fancy suit, so on and so forth.”

This time, Adolfo Torrez was the one to approach the photographer. He asked if she’d like to go to the movies. At the time, around 1946, Raoul Torrez said a “Hispanic man with a white lady … that was an interesting situation.”

But Kay Torrez readily accepted.

“She said, ‘Yeah, I’ll go to the movies with you,’” Raoul Torrez recounted. “And he said, ‘Well, pick me up tomorrow at ten in the morning.’ And my mom’s like, ‘Who is this guy to think that I'm going to have to pick him up?’”

Nonetheless, the unconventional flirtation was a success.

“Sure enough, there she was at ten in the morning, picking him up to go to the movies,” said Raoul Torrez. “And that’s where the journey began.”

Starting out on Washington Street

Over the next several years, the pair would go on to run several businesses on Washington Street.

“Every business that they ever owned was on Washington Street,” Raoul Torrez said.

One of their first ventures was a restaurant and bar. Business was good, but Adolfo Torrez had two sons, Rupert and Adolfo, from a previous marriage and the long hours and demanding work made it difficult to simultaneously raise their young family.

Raoul Torrez said this was when his uncle, who Adolfo Torrez was “joined at the hip” with their whole lives, laid out an idea for a newly available property on the same street.

“My Uncle Chapo said, ‘You know what? There's a little place that's available on Washington Street and 11th Street,’” said Raoul Torrez. “‘I think we can start a flower shop.’ So at the same time they had the restaurant, they had a bar and they had this flower shop.”

As the flower shop began to flourish, Raoul Torrez said his parents were always looking for new opportunities.

“At that point they had given up the restaurant and the bar and they were focusing on flowers,” he said.

Their family continued to grow with Adolfo Torrez and Kay Torrez welcoming their shared children, Royna, Gregory and Raoul, into the world over the next several years. In that time, the property directly next door to the flower shop became available.

There was just one problem, said Raoul Torrez: “They actually bought the property before they knew what they were going to do with it.”

In 1962, the couple decided they had two options for what kind of business would pair well with the flower shop.

“Either funerals or weddings,” Raoul Torrez said with a laugh. “So my mom says, ‘I don't know about the funerals. Let's — let’s look into weddings.’”

By the time they opened Azteca Bridal, the community had come to know and trust the Torrez family name.

“They knew them from the flower shop, they knew them from the restaurant,” he said. “The community just were happy to see their success.”

Family business

The family always lived in or near the shop, said Raoul Torrez, and growing up there meant helping out as soon as you could hold a dust mop.

“We came in as we grew up and kind of just slid right into it,” he recalled. “My sister probably was 12 years old when she started selling flower girl dresses.”

Raoul Torrez remembers spending time at the shop as a child, watching TV with his siblings on the sofas put out for customers. Their parents would almost always be somewhere nearby, helping a client and “treating them like family.”

“There's not many businesses that can say they serve all segments of the community,” he said. “And that's what he was most proud of, as well as my mom.”

Raoul Torrez said his father loved looking out into the store parking lot. Near the end of his life, he found and purchased a chair to make Adolfo more comfortable as he got older — and still insisted on coming in, even up until six months before he died in 2000.

“It wasn't the quantity of cars, but the cars themselves,” Raoul Torrez said. “Whether it was a Mercedes, it was a truck, it was a low rider, it was a car that was leaking oil — he was happy about that.”

When the announcement came that Azteca Bridal would close its doors for good, an outpouring of emotion and stories followed.

“Little girls coming in with brides to buy a flower girl dress and they come back, and they get a quinceañera dress,” Raoul Torrezsaid. “And I don't know how many times they come back and buy their wedding gown. It’s just — it’s something special and the legacy of my mom and dad is a beautiful thing.”

The shop holds the memories of the three generations that grew up working the floor, and that legacy.

Closing time

When it came to the decision to close: “It actually was pretty simple. We’re not getting younger, so that always crosses one’s mind, you know?”

But Raoul Torrez admitted that doesn’t make closing any less bittersweet. The business was originally going to close Nov. 30, but it was pushed back to Dec. 16.

“All the interactions with so many people, at happy times,” he said. “That’s the main thing that’s going to be missed.”

Since they announced the closing last month, Raoul Torrez said it’s been an emotional experience. Many customers have come back in to see the store one last time, and told him the stories of how they came to Azteca Bridal for all kinds of weddings and other occasions. He recalled sitting down with one former Azteca bride last week.

“Her husband passed away in October and he wanted to emphasize to her that he wanted to buy his granddaughter's quinceañera dress from Azteca,” he said. “He says, ‘I want you to go to Azteca, and I want you to buy the prettiest dress they have.’”

Still, Raoul Torrez said he’s looking forward to spending more time with his two grandchildren.

“I’m actually giving time for the many hours that the business has taken from the family,” Raoul Torrez said. “So it's time for my wife and my boys and my grandbabies, and whatever they want to do.”

When asked how he wants Azteca Bridal to be remembered, Raoul Torrez smiled.

“From very humble, humble beginnings, a man and a woman with love created something that was beautiful for thousands of family memories,” he said. “We were sincere and honest. We treated everybody as family.”

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Kirsten Dorman is a field correspondent at KJZZ. Born and raised in New Jersey, Dorman fell in love with audio storytelling as a freshman at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2019.