Mike Pasquesi was a first-year track and field athlete as a senior at Lake Forest High School in 1988.
Coaches slotted him in the 800-meter run, a grueling event. It’s not a distance race. It’s not a sprint.
But Pasquesi proved to be a quick study, having qualified for the prep state meet in Charleston and making the Bowling Green State University men’s track and field team as a walk-on.
His run in the family business, Pasquesi Home and Gardens in Lake Bluff, reached its 30th year this year. Now 53 years old and the store’s president and general manager, Pasquesi shows no signs of slowing down.
“My parents’ business philosophy is also mine,” the Lake Bluff resident says of what guided the company’s co-founders, Edward and Marie Pasquesi, who essentially launched the venture when they attached a garden center to the hardware store they ran in Highland Park in the 1970s.
“Selling quality products is up there in importance, along with being serious about providing the best possible service to customers,” he continues. “They also were always hungry to succeed. They never got complacent. They believed that the minute you did that was the minute you started to fail.”
Mike Pasquesi was born on Thanksgiving.
“The best news that day wasn’t my birth,” he says, grinning. “It was that everybody still got to eat.”
The day after Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days every year at Pasquesi Home and Gardens. The scents of Christmas—particularly the Fraser fir trees—hit you as soon as you enter the welcoming, spacious layout on Shore Drive.
“It’s a family tradition for many, to come here on that Friday and pick out a tree, as well as shop for other holiday items,” says Pasquesi, whose sisters, Cindy (director of human resources) and Lisa (accounting and marketing), also work there. “All generations shop here. You can buy something here for your grandparents, your spouse, your kids, and your pets.
“I’ve heard customers call our store their ‘happy place.’ ”
The number of smiles inside Pasquesi Home and Gardens nearly matches the number of Christmas trees—mostly Fraser firs from North Carolina—this time of year. Fraser fir is the No. 1 selling Christmas tree for several reasons, including its flattened blue-green needles, pleasant fragrance, and long needle retention.
The trees hang from the ceiling so the branches naturally fall, displaying their full size and shape and allowing customers to twirl them and check out all sides.
Pasquesi’s attentive, knowledgeable employees, upon request, will remove at least one inch from the base of the tree trunk (before the new owner sets it in a tree stand at home), and then they net your tree and place it on your car.
“We want the selection of the perfect tree to be a fun and easy experience,” Pasquesi says, adding his independent store deals with three suppliers. “We like to sell Fraser firs because they perform well, as long as they’re taken care of at home.”
Pasquesi Home and Gardens also offers fresh greens, home accents, outdoor decorations, artificial trees, ornaments, and unique place settings and tableware.
Between January and mid-November?
It carries a wide variety of quality plants and products to turn homes and gardens into stylish sanctuaries.
Pets are always welcome at the location, too. Pet food and bird baths are available for purchase. There’s even a Bone Bar for your Fido.
Mike Pasquesi got his first taste of business at the age of 7 or 8, when he and sister Cindy hawked Italian ice outside their parents’ hardware store in Highland Park.
He later worked for Mom and Dad when the family business was known as Pasquesi Home and Farm Supplies in Lake Forest. The middle child completed tasks in the warehouse, swept floors, helped load cars, and rang up sales as a teen.
He’d also earn money at the store over the holidays and summers while majoring in international studies at BGSU in Ohio.
“At the beginning of my senior year in college, I realized, yes, this is a very good business, something I want to do for a living,” recalls Pasquesi, who worked at the company’s Barrington location from 1992-2000, attaining the position of manager before it closed.
The family business left the Lake Forest location—the small size wouldn’t allow it to fully service the burgeoning clientele—and opened its doors in Lake Bluff in 2006.
“I learned a ton from my parents,” says Pasquesi, who met his future wife, Cincinnati native Sarah, at BGSU and proposed to her in Vienna, Austria. “They’ve been major influences. They’re great people, and they were great business people when they ran things. They were a super team. Dad stops by every day; nothing beats having one of the co-founders of your company nearby every day.”
Pasquesi usually wakes up at 4:30 a.m. on workdays, walks his havapoo named Louie, and arrives at work by 5:45 a.m. He returns home at 6 p.m., ideally, though that time is as flux as the weather in these parts. But Pasquesi Home and Gardens doesn’t just thrive because its leader is as committed to the store as his folks were.
“In order for us to have success, you have to have great employees who are also great people,” Pasquesi says of his team of 40. “We have those. Our workforce is the engine that drives us.”
“I’ve been fortunate,” adds the father of three sons (Sam, 22; Oliver, 20; and Simon, 17). “My dad came to America from Italy and began working here at a country club, cutting grass. Then he became a butcher before owning a hardware store.
“I had a front-row seat to the American Dream.”
Pasquesi Home and Gardens, 847-615-2700, is located at 975 North Shore Drive, Lake Bluff. Visit pasquesi.com for more information.