CANANDAIGUA, NY — When the news was first posted on Facebook, the comments started coming. And they kept coming.
And still more.
Antoinette Infurna could not believe what she was reading, and honestly, she still can’t.
She and husband Libertino, who later this month will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary and were high school sweethearts back in Realmonte, Sicily, announced the closing of Antoinette’s Bridal and Prom. Their retirement and the store’s closing become official Nov. 19.
So many of the brides the Infurnas helped find the perfect wedding dress for expressed their happiness for them as they, like the brides and grooms had done years before, enter a new stage of life with many of the same emotions such as happiness and nervousness.
“I started crying like a baby,” Antoinette Infurna said. “Every day it’s somebody new. Oh my God. That’s the best part, to see all these past brides, they still thank us for what we did for them.”
Especially now, with an old way of life ending and a new one set to begin, she tears up when looking through the handwritten thank-you notes and wedding pictures she has posted on a bulletin board in the small homey business on Ontario Street in Canandaigua.
Reminiscing, Antoinette likes to think they gave the happy couples a good start. In the process, the Infurnas made lifelong friends, and many of them.
“That’s the part I’m going to miss the most,” she said.
Her uncle, Sam Palermo, came to the U.S. first, operating a muck farm in nearby Potter. He then sponsored the rest of the family to come so he could have some help.
Antoinette came in 1967 when she was a teenager. She had learned to sew while in Sicily because that’s what mom and dad told her to do. And in those days, she said, you listened to your parents, although she admitted, she enjoyed flipping through the bridal and fashion magazines and looking at all the beautiful dresses.
“That’s how I learned the sewing,” Antoinette said. “We had a place where they teach you how to make patterns, so she signed me up for that.”
After arriving here, she wound up sewing sports attire at Allison Athletics in Canandaigua.
“A lot of women went to work there on the sewing machine,” she said. “For many, many years, that’s where the paycheck came from for my family.”
Then it was onto Ontario Arc, which was looking for someone who could teach clients how to sew. She filled the bill and worked there for a long time, she said, but she also had a dream.
After so many years of looking through fashion and bridal magazines, and all the beautiful dresses, she wanted to open her own bridal shop. She took classes at Finger Lakes Community College to learn how to run a business.
By then, she and Libertino had been married for some time and had two children.
The shop, which opened in 1990, was a family-run affair, right from the beginning.
Libertino helped fireproof the shop. In the morning, he would go through the paperwork and make sure the bills were paid and orders made before he was off to Canandaigua Academy, working in the maintenance department. After working his eight hours and leaving at 11 at night, he’d wake up early and do it all over again. He did this for nearly 30 years.
Early on, Antoinette kept her job at Ontario Arc, which meant the kids, Josie and Santa, would open the shop when they came home from school until she could arrive. Neighbors would even fill in as needed. Antoinette’s mother and sister-in-law pitched in with dress alterations during busy seasons.
Both said it was very scary in the beginning of operating a business.
“After two years, we had to make a decision — here we are!” Antoinette said. “It’s scary because you don’t know. It’s tough in the beginning. You had to make it work somehow.”
They did, and had fun while doing it.
Daughter Santa Abraham said she and her sister traveled to bridal markets with their parents and helped sell dresses in the shop.
“Our favorite part was bridal shows,” she said. “We worked and modeled at a lot of shows in the last 32 years.”
Antoinette recalls taking her mother and friend to a show — over the years, the Infurnas would travel to shows in Las Vegas, New York City, Dallas, you name it.
“She would point, buy that one! Buy that one!” Antoinette laughed. “That was one of the best fashion shows and trips we had with my mom.”
It’s more than the dress
You tend to think white when you think bridal, but the shop is awash in colorful wear. Dresses come in traditional white, yes, but pink, red, blue, teal and more catch the eye.
The brides-to-be come into the shop like strangers, but leave friends. The same with the teenagers who come in at prom time.
After they introduce themselves, the customers will explain what they’re looking for, when the wedding is, how long they’ve been engaged, “this and that and most of the time,” Antoinette said.
She will not elaborate. You’ve heard the phrase, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas? What the bride-to-be tells Infurna in the shop’s fitting room stays there, too.
Their bond stays in place as well.
“If that room could talk — the bride and I got so close to each other — they will tell me anything,” Antoinette said. “Nothing will go out from that room.”
It didn’t take long for Antoinette to become a mentor, confidante and friend. And don’t leave Libertino out of the mix.
He picked out a dress for a woman from a family in Naples, which they loved. When it was the next daughter’s turn, they called to set up an appointment — with him.
“And we started laughing,” Antoinette said.
Carrie Ann Grippo-Pike, a photographer in Greece, said Antoinette is a talented seamstress, but what also makes her so special is her kindness, her understanding of what her dream dress design was, and how much joy she had when she found the dress for her in her storage area and brought it into the dressing room to show her.
Eleven years after her wedding, Grippo-Pike was among those who thought enough of her to wish her well in retirement.
“She was so proud, and so excited she had what I wanted!” Grippo-Pike said. “The minute my Mom Jan Grippo and I met her in 2011, we instantly felt like she was part of the family, as if we had known her forever. She was a sweetheart and you could tell she was passionate about making your wedding special and happily ever after. Which she did!”
Now you know why Antoinette cries.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Antoinette had downsized the operation, only opening by appointment. Injuries to both of her wrists forced her to stop sewing and alterations.
Their kids aren’t going to take it over, Antoinette said, and they really don’t want them to anyway. The business is not like it used to be 32 years ago, she said.
“This was for myself,” Antoinette said. “The kids have their own life.”
The Infurnas do plan to relax a bit and travel, as well as spend more time with family. She wants to devote more time to volunteering at St. Mary’s Church and St. Vincent DePaul Society.
“It’s been go, go, go for the past 32 years, believe me,” Antoinette said. “This is going to be nice.”
Actually, they will need to put relaxation on hold, at least until after this momentous month in the Infurna family. The shop closes Nov. 19. Her birthday is Nov. 23. Thanksgiving is Nov. 24, and their wedding anniversary is Nov. 25.
“A different life, very different,” Libertino said. “But it will be OK.”
Antoinette said it was just time to retire and time to move on. And she and her husband are comfortable with the decision, although she will miss the customers who have become cherished friends and family.
“It’s going to be sad for a little bit,” she said. “Life, the way it goes.”
A sign in Antoinette’s Bridal and Prom often makes visitors laugh: “Life is short. Buy the dress.” That applies now.
A retirement sale continues through Nov. 19, with all wedding, prom, mothers’ and special occasion dresses marked under $99. Cash or check only.
Hours are 1 to 7 p.m. now through Nov. 11, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 12, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 14 to Nov. 19.
Antoinette’s Bridal and Prom is at 213 Ontario St., Canandaigua. For details, call 585-396-7328.