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Step into Mestiza in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, and it is like you are stepping into another world. Once inside, you can see the vibrant colors and textures at every turn. The magical aroma of Palo Santo fills the air, setting the stage for a truly unique shopping experience at one of the city’s Latinx retail treasures.

Lorena Almanza and Sugeiri Martinez are the co-owners of Mestiza, and a married couple who met in high school.

A Store is Born
“We named our store Mestiza because we were looking for a name that reflected our culture. We wanted a name that expressed our duality as Mexican-American women and also our mixed ancestry,” says Sugeiri.

“I love the name of our store, because I feel like we’re a mixed culture and we sell mixed merchandise”, adds Lorena. “That’s why I love the name Mestiza. We sell a little bit of everything. We bring items from Mexico, Peru, Guatemala. We bring stuff from Canada. We also have a lot of local artists that we carry in our shop.”

Mestiza has evolved over the years, starting out as an event vendor, and then growing into a small studio, until it outgrew itself and a larger retail space was needed.

“At first it was very small. We started out as a partnership,” explains Sugeiri. “We wanted a shop that sold things that we liked. We didn’t see any representation in other shops. We liked anything that was vintage, Mexican, mystical, funny, just anything that reminded us of our culture.”

The owners have meticulously curated a collection of items which feel right at home from charming mugs and jewelry to handcrafted candles, eclectic t-shirts, and concha-shaped pillows. Mestiza has focused on cultivating a space that not only showcases a diverse range of artists, but also fosters meaningful connections within the community.

Mestiza sells a variety of unique Latina gift items. Here you’ll find merchandise from Latina themed mugs, T-shirts and stickers, to more exotic items from jewelry and a wide variety of books.

We carry a lot of Frida (Kahlo) items,” Sugeiri added. “We sell a lot of items that remind us of how we grew up with the Mexican culture, but also loving all things that are pop culture from the U.S.”

The culinary arts are not lost on Sugeiri and Lorena!

“We also sell a lot of cookbooks, you know, because we love to eat,” said Lorena with a laugh. “We also sell a lot of socks, some really nice fun socks and plants!”
Dia de los Muetros or “Day of the Dead” is a very important holiday on the Mexican calendar. Lorena and Sugeiri make sure that Mestiza carries items in demand during this holiday.

“Dia de los Muertos is very important in our neighborhood,” says Sugeiri. “Wwe sell a lot of Dia de los Muertos items. We carry a lot of sugar skulls, hand painted skulls. We also have paper mache skulls. We have bags and wall decorations with a Dia de los Muertos theme.”

Sugeiri and Lorena seem committed to their customers beyond just selling them merchandise. They want them to have a unique experience when they walk through Mestiza’s doors.

“It’s really important that when they come in here, they have an amazing experience and just feel welcome,” says Lorena.

“Mestiza is definitely a store of memories. A lot of people that come in, the first thing that they’ll say is, ‘Oh, this reminds me of playing lotería with my family,’ or ‘this reminds me of sitting around on a Sunday morning with my family eating a concha,’” says Sugeiri. “That’s exactly how we want people to feel in our shop. We want them to bring back all those memories of their childhood,”

We love when people come in our shop and the first thing they say is ‘Oh, it smells so good in here! It feels so good in here. Or, Wow! I didn’t know this was in here.’ And, you know, catching them by surprise is the best thing” said Sugeiri. “They don’t expect that a shop like ours even exists!”

Lorena and Sugeiri say they believe they built Mestiza in the right place in Chicago.

“Mestiza is located in the heart of Chicago in the Pilsen neighborhood,” said Sugeiri. “It’s important for our shop to be in Pilsen, because it’s the hub of the Latino community. Pilsen is where we eat, this is where we shop, this is where we live, and this is where we feel at home. That’s why it’s important for the shop to be in the Pilsen neighborhood.”

The Partnership
Sugeiri and Lorena have found they seem to work well with each other when it comes to running Mestiza.

“We really complement each other,” said Sugeiri. “I do all the back end work and Lorena takes care of the shop. So, we really are a divide and conquer, kind of team.”

Both are also committed to helping women in a big way.

“Being a Latina, a woman, and a business owner is a challenge,” says Sugeiri. “That’s why part of our mission has been to elevate women businesses. So, we have an event that we host usually in March for Women’s Month. It’s in honor of International Women’s Day where we invite a whole bunch of women business owners to come into a market with us.”

The Business
Mestiza moved into a brand new location in June 2023. Sugeiri and Lorena have a vision and a plan to grow Mestiza to greater success.

“Our long term goal is that we can serve not just the Chicago area communities, but also nationwide,” stressed Sugeiri with excitement in her voice. “So we’re working on our online store and we’re working on our rebranding”.

They both believe that with the new space in their new location, they can bring in new products from even more interesting places and generate even more excitement for their present customers and attract new Mestiza fans from across the country.

Both Lorena and Sugeiri say that in order for their business to evolve, Illinois must show its commitment to small, retail businesses.

“I would encourage the lawmakers to think about small businesses when passing laws and creating budgets,” said Sugeiri. “When they help a small business, they’re not just uplifting the business itself, they’re uplifting an entire community!”

Advice to a retailer
“If had to give advice to a new retailer it would be to just go for it! There are so many resources out there and you could even get a mentor,” advised Sugeiri. “The second thing I would say is to start small. You could start in your home and then as your business grows you can make your business into an LLC.”

“The third thing I want to pass along is to use every opportunity to promote your business. Some months might be bad. But you can use social media to promote your business or you can pass out cards at an event, even if you’re not making any sales. Use every opportunity to showcase your products,” suggested Sugeiri.

Lorena and Sugeiri truly feel a deep commitment to their community and a passion for their business.

“I do appreciate this opportunity, because I feel like it’s important for us to get more exposure and I feel little shops like ours make the neighborhood,” Lorena said.

“Mestiza is a passion project for us,” explained Sugeiri. “It looks like the it’s being well received by the community, so we’re gonna keep going as long as the community wants us here.”

Chicagoland

Mojo Spa

IRMAJuly 15, 2024

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