Quinceañera shops ca­su­al­ties of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion

Dress stores for Lati­nas mark­ing a mile­stone fall vic­tim in down­town

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Ale­jan­dra Molina Molina writes for Times Com­mu­nity News.

The dress stores, which were a cot­tage in­dus­try for Lati­nas, are slowly dis­ap­pear­ing from 4th Street in Santa Ana.

Min­erva Al­varez learned to cut fab­ric as a mid­dleschooler in her na­tive Cuer­navaca, Mex­ico. She be­gan mak­ing sim­ple dresses in class and soon el­e­vated to cre­at­ing elab­o­rate quinceañera designs.

“It’s the style I en­joyed the most. It was the pret­ti­est, with much more de­tail, with much more love,” said Al­varez, who runs Shel­sye’s Bridal in down­town Santa Ana.

Nearby, San­dra Cer­pas honed her craft as a young­ster with the help of nuns in her church in Mi­choa­can, Mex­ico. The church would of­fer free tailor­ing classes in ex­change for small do­na­tions.

“We would take fruit or honey to learn,” said Cer­pas, who op­er­ates Cas­san­dra’s Bridal.

Al­varez and Cer­pas are business own­ers who run quinceañera shops on 4th Street, a com­mer­cial district that for years catered largely to Span­ish-speak­ing Mex­i­can im­mi­grants.

The women or­der their dresses in bulk from de­sign­ers and com­pa­nies in Mex­ico, Ger­many and New York City. They also de­sign and make their own gowns.

They sketch and stitch pat­terns, build pa­per mod­els, cut fab­ric and piece to­gether lay­ered dresses with elab­o­rate ruf­fles. It’s a work of art that re­quires craft, skill and time.

As artist Saskia Jorda — who in a 2013 art in­stal­la­tion ex­plored quinceañera tailor­ing tra­di­tions through in­ter­views with shop own­ers in down­town Santa Ana — phrased it, “It’s like each one had their se­crets.”

This skill set and tra­di­tion has been slowly dis­ap­pear­ing from down­town Santa Ana, which for years hosted a cot­tage in­dus­try for the dresses in­tended for Lati­nas cel­e­brat­ing their 15th birthdays. Quinceañera shops lined 4th Street by the dozen.

Now, they’re ei­ther mov­ing to other parts of the city, or out­side the county, as trendy restau­rants, bars and cloth­ing bou­tiques con­tinue to set up shop in a rapidly gen­tri­fy­ing neigh­bor­hood.

Mar­i­lynn Mon­taño, who works as a barista in the down­town area, doc­u­ments the clo­sure of long­time busi­nesses — in­clud­ing quinceañera bou­tiques — by post­ing pho­tos of the empty shops on In­sta­gram. In one photo, she fea­tures a young woman wear­ing a quinceañera dress, pos­ing in front of an empty bou­tique.

A yel­low, hand­writ­ten sign de­clares the shop has moved to Hunt­ing­ton Park.

“I started to doc­u­ment them be­cause, in a cou­ple years, this is just go­ing to be a mem­ory to some­one,” said Mon­taño, 25.

“We don’t con­sider these quinceañera shops,” she said. “The peo­ple who make these dresses are also artists.”

Down­town Santa Ana, par­tic­u­larly the area around 4th Street, has in the past been likened to vi­brant shop­ping plazas in Mex­ico.

As the Mex­i­can im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tion surged in the ’80s, 4th Street — known as Calle Cu­a­tro — re­flected the de­mo­graphic shift. Between 1960 and 1980, the city’s for­eign-born pop­u­la­tion grew from 7% to 30%, ac­cord­ing to the 2017 book “Latino City: Ur­ban Plan­ning, Pol­i­tics, and the Grass­roots.” Now, more than 78% of the city of 334,000 is Latino.

Travel agen­cies spe­cial­iz­ing in air­fares to Mex­ico and Latin Amer­ica, jewelry stores and shoe and cloth­ing shops be­came the norm down­town, wrote Cal State Fuller­ton as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor Eru­aldo Gon­za­lez, the author of “Latino City.”

Bridal stores, widely rec­og­nized for sell­ing quinceañera dresses, boomed. In 2014, the de­mand for such business was so high that “of the peo­ple that are here now that I know, al­most all of them were ex-em­ploy­ees of bridals, and now they have their own store,” one quinceañera shop owner re­called in the book.

“I counted all of them on 4th Street one day, some­thing like 30, 35,” she said.

But the dress shops have grad­u­ally be­come less vis­i­ble in re­cent years.

In the ’90s, Artists Vil­lage be­gan tak­ing shape near 1st Street and Broadway when Cal State Fuller­ton’s Grand Cen­tral Art Cen­ter moved down­town. Bars and restau­rants fol­lowed.

By 2011, a slew of changes con­trib­uted to down­town’s mixed iden­tity.

The East 4th Street area known as Fi­esta Mar­ket­place was re­branded as East End, and with that came the Frida Cin­ema, Na­tive Son Ale­house and an ar­ti­san food hall, 4th Street Mar­ket. Down­town de­vel­oper Ryan Chase said he re­branded the area to broaden its ap­peal be­yond its core Latino clien­tele.

To Al­varez, the strug­gle to stay afloat goes be­yond the gen­tri­fi­ca­tion nar­ra­tive told in Santa Ana, where it’s new ver­sus old. She doesn’t see her­self in com­pe­ti­tion with “los Amer­i­canos.” Al­varez said she had one of her best sales years in 2018, when she was de­liv­er­ing about 10 dresses a week.

“Hope­fully, the city can help us be­cause we have been here longer than those who are just ar­riv­ing,” Al­varez said.

Julie Cas­tro-Car­de­nas, act­ing as­sis­tant to the city man­ager, said the city is “con­scious about the cul­ture of the com­mu­nity.”

“We cer­tainly have an ear to all res­i­dents,” Cas­tro-Car­de­nas said. “We don’t cater to one group. We are in­ten­tional about hav­ing a balance.”

Cas­tro-Car­de­nas said that about four years ago the city cre­ated a down­town li­ai­son po­si­tion between mer­chants and City Hall, a job she claims has been plagued by high turnover. She also noted a 2017 res­o­lu­tion the city adopted in sup­port of worker co­op­er­a­tives — busi­nesses owned by work­ers who share the prof­its. And in De­cem­ber, the city ap­proved $100,000 each for the Santa Ana Business Coun­cil, which sup­ports 4th Street busi­nesses, and Down­town Inc., which man­ages the area’s restau­rant as­so­ci­a­tion.

Like Santa Ana, cities na­tion­wide are grap­pling with how to ad­dress dis­place­ment and pre­serve their cul­tural dis­tricts. In San Fran­cisco, for ex­am­ple, the Board of Su­per­vi­sors in May passed leg­is­la­tion to es­tab­lish clear def­i­ni­tions of cul­tural dis­tricts in or­der to pro­vide fund­ing for them.

To González, author of “Latino City,” so­lu­tions need to go be­yond cul­tural preser­va­tion. “You have to put front and cen­ter the class el­e­ment,” he said.

Up­scale Mex­i­can restau­rants or ex­pen­sive bridal bou­tiques would jibe in a cul­tur­ally Mex­i­can district, but González ques­tioned whether they would serve the area’s work­ing class. “Gen­tefi­ca­tion” — which hap­pens when pro­fes­sional, col­lege-ed­u­cated Lati­nos return to and in­vest in their neigh­bor­hoods — is a class is­sue, he said.

“And the way the mod­els are be­ing di­vided across cities, it’s go­ing to be fa­vor­ing pock­ets,” González said.

Kevin Chang Daily Pilot

DRESSES for Lati­nas cel­e­brat­ing their 15th birthdays of­ten in­volve com­plex pat­terns and elab­o­rate ruf­fles. It’s a work of art that re­quires skill and time. Above, dresses at Shel­sye’s Bridal on 4th Street in Santa Ana.

Kevin Chang Daily Pilot

SHOP OWNER Min­erva Al­varez shows off a Mex­i­can charro-styled quinceañera dress, a pop­u­lar choice at Shel­sye’s Bridal in Santa Ana’s com­mer­cial district.

Mar­i­lynn Mon­taño

A YOUNG WOMAN wear­ing a quinceañera gown poses in front of a closed shop in down­town, where trendy restau­rants and bou­tiques con­tinue to pop up.

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