Death threats and merchandise: How an infamous press conference changed Four Seasons Total Landscaping forever

On the one-year anniversary of the Four Seasons Total Landscaping press conference, Richard Hall revisits the family-run company to hear how their lives were turned upside down

Sunday 07 November 2021 14:55 GMT
Marie Sivaro, the owners of Four Seasons Total Landscaping, and her son Michael, director of operations.
Marie Sivaro, the owners of Four Seasons Total Landscaping, and her son Michael, director of operations. (Richard Hall / The Independent )
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For most of America, it began with a tweet. As the fate of the nation rested in the balance, Donald Trump’s announcement of a press conference at a landscaping company in Philadelphia, where his team promised to reveal evidence of mass electoral fraud, set off a chain of events that culminated in a cinematic ending for his presidency in a parking lot next to an adult book store.

But for the staff at Four Seasons Total Landscaping, the saga began hours earlier with a phone call from someone on the Trump campaign.

“We got the call at 8.30am,” says Michael Sivaro, the operations manager, of his first contact with the then president’s team. “Within an hour we were there to meet them, and by 10am they had decided to go with us.”

Marie Sivaro, Michael’s mother and the owner of the business, didn’t think twice.

“I said, I don’t think we could say no to this. This is the president,” she tells The Independent in the back office of their building. “We weren’t interested in the political part of it. We were just here doing our duty as citizens.”

The rest was history. No sooner had Trump’s onetime personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani began a conspiracy theory-laden monologue about alleged voter fraud in Pennsylvania than reporters in front of him started to leave. The election had been called for Joe Biden.

It has been a year since that day, and a mystery that has endured ever since was whether the Trump team actually meant to hold their press conference at this family-run business, and not the Four Seasons Hotel in the city centre. It was that confusion and uncertainty that propelled the day’s events from an awkward sideshow into a comical, circus-like ending to the Trump presidency – from the Big Lie to the Big Joke.

The Sivaro family, who woke up one day to find themselves in the eye of a media storm, watched the joke spiral, but they have maintained that the campaign chose their company because of its location.

“The media kind of helped us out with it by reporting that they didn’t know if they mixed up the Four Seasons Hotel with us. It was just like the comedy wrote itself,” says Michael.

Marie says the Trump team chose their business after scouting for suitable places on Google Maps.

“We think they got the idea after they did an overhead view,” she says. “If you look outside, you can’t see up into here. So they blocked the street. They could have called 10 other people.”

The Sivaros haven’t had much time to dwell on the ins and outs, because from the moment Giuliani started speaking their lives were turned upside down.

“I just blacked out because he started kind of rambling on and I was just like, oh man, I see the crowd brewing out front. What is this?” Michael says.

They were immediately forced into the national spotlight. On the day of a historic election, with a record turnout that made Trump a one-term president, all anyone could seem to talk about was Four Seasons Total Landscaping. The story gave birth to a thousand memes and jokes that persisted for days.

(Getty Images)

But not everyone was happy with them. It was a political event, after all, and the politics found them.

“The first 24 hours was scary,” says Michael. “People were threatening us and calling us out.”

Marie adds: “All of a sudden people are sending me emails: ‘F U, F Trump.’ I mean, I didn’t even know you could make writing that big.”

“People got crazy. You don’t know what somebody’s going to do. Other people were leaving flowers outside like it was a funeral for Trump’s death.”

Their first concern was security. Michael immediately went to buy more cameras for their home and Marie checked in with the local police precinct to let them know what was happening.

But then things started to shift, partly because of how the team reacted to the attention. Michael and former sales director Sean Middleton saw an opportunity in the madness. They decided to join in with the joke, and turned the company’s social media accounts into meme-producing machines.

“We would just bounce ideas off each other. We’d send them to each other. If we got a laugh out of it, that means we should post it,” Michael says.

The attention of the world also opened doors for them in a way none of them could have expected. They were suddenly inundated with thousands of orders from around the world for their t-shirts – in the first week they sold 35,000 of them. All of the staff came in to pack boxes, which piled up over their heads amongst the lawnmowers in the garage out back.

“We went from doing landscaping and finishing up like our leaf removal to being a merchandising business overnight,” Michael says. And we had to become pros within a day or two of this. There was no time for error whatsoever.”

Most of that money went to paying bonuses to employees, Marie says. They also used their newfound fame to arrange clothes drives and gave back to the local alcohol rehabilitation shelter nearby.

The phone rang off the hook with offers – newspapers, magazines, television shows all wanted to hear their side of the story. Then in February this year, their biggest offer yet came in when Marie was asked to appear in a Super Bowl commercial.

“When opportunity knocks at your corrugated garage door, you roll that puppy up,” she says in the glitzy ad.

And on Sunday, one year to the day when the Trump circus came to town, a documentary about the last year will air on MSNBC.

Today, the parking lot that Giuliani and his team made famous is once again filled with landscaping equipment. A large row of flower boxes sits alongside the infamous garage doors, which became a backdrop for Christmas cards, Zoom backgrounds and countless mock-ups.

As Marie and Michael recount the events of the last year, three Israeli tourists can be seen approaching the front door nervously. The pair head out to meet them and take pictures, before handing them Four Seasons T-shirts.

“This happens a lot,” Michael says.

It has been a whirlwind for the entire team, but the experience has been a positive one for them. Marie, who founded Four Seasons Total Landscaping in 1992, says the most valuable part of the last year was a sense of validation, of recognition for the business she built from the ground up.

“Other than making a little bit of money this year, it has not altered my life. But it’s almost like I got validated for having a successful business,” she says.

“My friends and their husbands, they looked at me like I had this little truck and trailer business, and nobody really knew about us. They didn’t know what we did for the community.”

For her first 20 years in business, in a male-dominated industry, things were a struggle for Marie. It took her a long time to make it a success, which it was long before Rudy Giuliani came along.

“I had days where I had six paychecks in my drawer and I would say to the girl who sat at the front, can I cash any of my checks? I never had a week where my people didn’t get paid, but I wouldn’t take a check,” she says. “I had my days, I climbed on the back of trucks and dug holes and loaded salt spreaders. And I got up in the middle of the night for every snow storm.”

Michael took the reins of the daily operations from his mother shortly before the press conference saga began, giving him something of a baptism of fire.

He says he wants to get back to landscaping, and growing the business.

“I want to try to create as many jobs as I can for the people of Philadelphia, and for the people in this industry. Landscaping doesn’t really get a good rep when it comes to its working practices – there’s no union, it used to be you’d get minimum wage. I’m trying to make it to where staff can support their families with it,” he says.

Marie appears ready to hand over the reins, and is grateful for the space to spend less time thinking about work.

“I am the most blessed individual,” she says. “But my whole life, I missed so much. I remember my friends going to fashion shows and going to shows in New York and I would say, ‘I can’t go, I have to go home and work.’”

“I remember kissing Michael at my car window after he went off to a baseball game. And I looked through my rearview mirror and I cried the whole way back to the shop because I wanted to be there,” she adds.

“If I were a man in the same position, it would have been okay. But the fact that I was a female, I think they were waiting for the big hurrah for me to be successful. And this just got me the opportunity for everybody to realize I do have a real, successful business.

“I’m happy about the documentary and I hope it brings us business, and it’s nice for people to know your story, but missing all that stuff, I got a lot of time to make up for.”

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