Fiesta Marketplace in Santa Ana Offers Cross-Cultural Shopping

Karen Newell Young is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

With its melting-pot demographics, the county is brimming with cross-cultural shopping experiences.

Now, add Santa Ana's new Fiesta Marketplace to the catalogue of crossover shopping districts targeted to both ethnic and non-ethnic shoppers. Inching its way down 4th Street between Bush and French streets, the festive new shopping center is aimed at both the predominantly Anglo office workers in its downtown location and first-generation Mexican immigrant families who tend to shop in groups during the late afternoon and evening.

A 2-mile skip away from the shimmering new MainPlace shopping mall, Fiesta Marketplace is the retail dream come true for a group of five businessmen, most of whom have roots in the area.

They wanted to help revive downtown's sagging spirit by turning an area where barrooms once reigned into an exciting shopping district where Latinos would feel at home.

In the past few months nearly a dozen new businesses have opened in the 4-block spread that now includes a soon-to-open restored vaudeville theater, a family seafood restaurant, a bakery, a Western goods shop, a sporting goods store specializing in soccer equipment and uniforms, a handful of clothing stores, a movie theater that shows only Spanish-language films, an ice cream shop and a carrousel that operates on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Some of the businesses, such as the Custom Auto Service (which restores vintage Packard automobiles), have been operating for years; others are brand new.

Stocked with mostly moderately priced merchandise, the stores cater to a mixed crowd with friendly bilingual salesclerks and goods that appeal to both groups. Visitors are greeted with either hola or hello, and restaurant menus are printed in Spanish and English.

By day, the district is often very quiet, with shoppers and office workers darting through for lunch or a stop at Moya's Bakery for cinnamon rolls. But by night, the pastel Colonial-style buildings--with ceramic trim and neon signs--begin to sparkle, and the late shoppers keep the place hopping through the evening.

Although a few months away from completion (which will be marked with a grand opening in July), 29 of the 35 stores and three of the five restaurants are now open. Beginning this month, merchants will schedule live entertainment, including radio broadcasts and food and craft demonstrations.

On April 29 and 30, a fashion show will be held with beauty pageant contestants modeling clothes from area stores between 1 and 3 p.m. Activities, including live music and costumed characters for the children, are also planned for Cinco de Mayo celebrations on May 6 and 7 and Mother's Day weekend (May 13 and 14). Mariachi bands and folklorico groups are planned for the future.

"It's really picking up and on weekends it's phenomenal," says Allan Fainbarg, a Santa Ana developer and one of the partners of the $12-million project. "It's all been families, who, like (they do) in Mexico, shop as a family unit. We're hoping to get a produce market in there and get even more people."

Along with the partners (Raymond Rangel, owner of R&R; Sportswear; Jose Ceballos, owner of two Dimex stores in the area; Robert D. Escalante, owner of Custom Auto Service, and Irv Chase, Fainbarg's son-in-law), Santa Ana Councilman Daniel E. Griset was a key figure in launching the marketplace.

Spurgeon Street merchant Rene Moya, owner of Moya's Bakery, says he has high hopes for the district.

"It's happening very slowly but I have faith more stores will be leased and attract more people, especially when the theater opens," says Moya, referring to the historic Yost Theater across from the bakery.

Scheduled to reopen by mid-June, the 77-year-old, 950-seat theater will offer live family entertainment.

Shoppers can find traditional Mexican merchandise as well as fashionable and funky clothes among the Fiesta aisles. In Dimex Fashions, several doors down from Ceballos' Dimex record and book store, stylish men's Seahorse shirts sell for $16.99, French silk ties for $7.99 and Levi's 501 jeans for $19.99. Next door at La Paloma Fashions, formal women's dresses by Weekend and Arrivez sell for $60 and up.

Across 4th Street at the children's store called Kid Avenue, French Toast denim jean jackets cost $17.99, Jordache jeans $21.99 and up and frilly Mexican party dresses $22. A few doors down, a discount variety store called Fiesta Bargain Store is expected to open in May.

The Mercado sells such traditional Mexican merchandise as pinatas, marionettes, huaraches and woven skirts.

But the merchandise at R&R; Sportswear probably best represents not only the changing face of this once bedraggled section of Santa Ana but the goals of the Fiesta Marketplace businessmen. An eclectic mix of boots, belts, bolo ties and more than 800 Western hats, R&R; caters as much to the laborer seeking a $17 straw hat as it does the Western dandy hankering for a $350 beaver-hair Stetson.

Again, the target market is two-pronged, or as owner Raymond Rangel puts it: "We cater to working people, from orange pickers to office workers who like a good hat and don't mind paying the price for it."

R&R;, with its hundreds of hats stacked against the walls and 1929 Model A automobile mounted in the center of the store (not for sale), also carries boots made of lizard, ostrich, crocodile and alligator, with price tags as high as $498.

Rangel, a merchant who was born and raised in Santa Ana and who has been working on 4th Street since 1947, says business has picked up considerably since refurbishing began in earnest last year.

Rangel remembers during the post-World War II years when Calle Quartro was the place to shop.

"In those days we had people coming in from Anaheim, Fullerton, all over," he says. "It's coming back to that."



What: A collection of 29 shops, restaurants and businesses clustered along 4th Street between Bush and French streets in downtown Santa Ana, catering to Anglo and Latino shoppers.

Most unusual store: R&R; Sportswear, with its stacks of Stetson hats along the wall and rows of fancy cowboy boots, best represents what Fiesta Marketplace is all about. With $17 straw hats and $350 beaver-hair Stetsons, the store caters to every pocketbook.

Best place to take the kids: The carrousel, which costs 25 cents, is open at the corner of Spurgeon and 4th streets on Fridays from 2 to 6 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Beginning this month, live entertainment will be scheduled on pedestrian-only Spurgeon Street on weekends.

Good eats: Marisco's Tampico restaurant serves platters of fried and broiled seafood, and caters to the nearby office crowds during lunchtime. For $4.95 try the fish and shrimp platter, with tortilla chips and salsa, fries and cole slaw. Also open for dinner.

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