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After 47 years, a Guelph family store is turning out the lights for good

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The Gatto family has been running the Gordon Street business since 1977. Now, they’re getting ready to turn the lights off for good as they head into retirement

A family-owned Guelph business with a knack for lighting up faces is closing its doors after 47 years.

Paula Gatto’s late father, Lui Gatto, first opened Fashion Lighting on 21 Gordon St. in 1977.

Lui immigrated from Italy in the 1950s, first working as a labourer for the University of Guelph. He worked numerous other jobs before wanting to become his own boss and opening the store, which sells lighting, home decor and more. 

“I was in my early teens. I remember my four brothers helping us install the lighting and everything,” Paula Gatto said. “It was a financial struggle for my dad in the beginning.”

She remembers her brother telling her their father took them out for ice cream with his last $5.  

“He goes, this is all I’ve got left. I put everything into the business,” she said. “There was a lot of sweat and tears put in here.” 

But the store was his pride and joy. 

“He loved lighting people’s lives,” she said. 

Gatto started working at the shop part-time when she was 13 alongside her brothers, and has been there ever since, starting full-time once she graduated high school. 

Both stubborn in business, she and her dad would regularly butt heads over their respective visions for the business. 

“Being younger, I had my vision of what lighting we should carry. He’s the older generation, and his style was always so off with what was trendy,” she said. 

Behind the counter one day, they started arguing over what products to order. 

“He goes, you are so stubborn,” she said. “And I go, yeah, just like my father. And then we just broke out laughing.”

He wasn’t stubborn when it came to family life though.

“He was a great dad. If you needed the shirt off his back, he would give it to you. He was so kind and humble and loving.” 

Lui retired in the early 2000s, passing the business to Gatto and one of her brothers. 

Even after retiring, he would sit in the office watching Gatto and her brother work. Customers loved him, and would still stop by to say hello.

“He just loved it,” she said.

Gatto and her brother came to love it too, once he retired and they had more freedom to run the store. 

In 2010, their mom, Bruna, started coming in once a week to clean. 

“We just loved it when she came in; it was so fun,” Gatto said. “She probably did that for five, six years, and then she just got too busy with the grandkids.”

When Lui passed away in 2021, Gatto and her brother inherited the building. 

“And someone out of the blue, a very nice gentleman, came in and offered to purchase the building. So we thought, okay, why not? Let’s retire.”

She said the pandemic really put a dent in running the business – finding employees has proved to be especially difficult since then. 

“It’s hard finding employees. The people that do come in only want part time, but we’re looking more for full-time,” she said. 

But after 47 years, it’s hard to say goodbye. 

“This is what’s hard for me, because I love my job, and I don’t want to let it go. But I have to think of me,” she said. “It’s like I’m leaving a part of my dad here, and that’s the hardest part.” 

She’s going to miss working with her brother, too. 

There are four apartments above the store, which she said the new owner plans to renovate, and possibly expand. 

As for the storefront, he’s looking for commercial space, and Gatto hopes another lighting showroom will take over. 

“That would be really great, because the response we’ve been getting from customers when they heard that we were closing is amazing. We had no idea we were so well-liked,” she said.

Some of the goodbyes have been teary-eyed. 

Often, their regulars have been shopping there through the generations, and she and her family have grown to know them well, checking in on their lives whenever they come in. 

“You see this couple that just got married come in to choose the lighting for the new home they’re building. A year goes by, maybe two years, and they come in with a newborn. Then 20, 25 years later, that newborn baby is in our showroom, he’s now getting married and choosing lighting for (his) home.” 

“It’s not all about business when you’ve got regular customers. You build up a personal relationship as well,” she said. 

She attributes much of their success and longevity to the relationships they’ve built.

“I didn’t know I had this trait, but when I saw a customer come in with a sour expression, at the end of the visit, I always had them smiling,” she said. 

And no matter what, always look up and greet customers with a smile, she said. 

The store has always offered support to the extended community as well, sponsoring the Guelph Storm, donating to the Guelph General Hospital, Sick Kids, Big Brothers Big Sisters and United Way over the years. 

Gatto and her brother plan to take a year off after retiring. Afterwards, she either wants to stay in the lighting field or work with seniors in some capacity. 

When that will happen though, they’re not sure. 

They have to sell everything in the showroom first, and their retirement liquidation sale only just started. 

She said they should be in business at least until June, at which point they’ll decide how much longer they need before giving notice to the new owners and turning the lights off for good. 

“But we plan to be out of here by the end of the year or sooner,” she said. 

Gatto added that her family has “so much thanks” for their many loyal customers over the years. 

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