Jewelry designer leads effort to promote small businesses and culture in the Mission
By Rigoberto Hernández
From his house in the Mission District, Ricardo Pena transforms colorful feathers, beads and leather into jewelry that he and his wife sell at their 24th Street shop, Mixcoatl, where they feature indigenous art.
On weekends, Pena carts his products to the marketplaces that spring up outside of the two BART transit stations serving the Mission. Unknown to the many shoppers, the popular marketplaces are a product of Pena’s desire to help small businesses thrive in the Mission, even as the general economy turns sour.
“It’s difficult to run your own business, and then on top of that help other small businesses organize,” the 38-year-old native of Toluca, Mexico, acknowledged.
Pena came to the United States when he was 18 years old and has lived in the Mission for the last 20 years. Four years ago, Pena and his wife, Connie Ramirez, decided to start their own business after taking a course in the Alternativas para Latinas en Autosuficiencia (Alas) women’s initiative project.
On a recent Monday in their shop, Pena was confronted by a small rush of four customers, including three who are regulars. After purchasing a mirror, one customer asks Pena to “tell my boyfriend I like those earrings.”
“Starting a business was not easy, but luckily, we have a good landlord,” Pena said. “It might be easier to be employed elsewhere because sometimes it gets slow here. But it’s better in the winter when there is no work—at least I have my own establishment.”
Aware of the challenges posed by the declining economy, Pena decided to find ways to promote small businesses and culture. With the help of the Mission Economic Development Agency and its community organizer, Dairo Romero, Pena formed the Mission Small Business Association (MISBA).
“As small businesses, we saw that there was a need for a small business association to create a small cultural market, Pena said. “We have created this indigenous artistry to create good energy and entertainment.”
The cultural entertainment includes Pena’s Aztec dancing group, Mixcoatl Anahuatl. It was through this dancing group that Pena met Cesar Oyagata 10 years ago. At that time, Oyagata was an indigenous art street vendor from Ecuador. He who would later form his own business and become a founding member of MISBA.
“The relationship with Ricardo is good,” said Oyagata, now MISBA’s president. “We met while he was a dancer and since then he was interested in doing his own business.”
The marketplaces have been successful, according to Pena. “We have received a lot of acceptance by the people. They have really connected with the indigenous culture.”
Pena said he was motivated to create MISBA to promote unity among small business owners who can be victimized by landlords wanting to bring in high-end businesses that will provide more revenue. The group also has promoted the “Buy Locally/Comprale a Tu Vesino” campaign, which has posters and stickers all around the 24th Street corridor.
Romero agrees. “It’s important to help this local businesses on 24th Street,” he said. “They are establishments that people have come to know and rely on.”