COVID canceled their quinceañera. Now they’re dieciseis and the party is on
A year and a half ago, Celia Barrios watched her business dry up. The COVID-19 pandemic had put quinceañeras on hold, leaving Barrios looking at $150,000 of lost revenue.
“This is my baby that I’ve been cultivating for years,” Barrios said of Tiaras & Tacones, her Burbank quinceañera planning business. “And it was just now coming to fruition where I was seeing such a growth. And it just came to a complete stop.”
But in the last few months, the celebrations — a coming-of-age rite for Latina 15-year-olds — are back. And some who missed out in 2020 are making up for it, even if they’re now 16 years old.
Before the pandemic, Barrios was booking three events a week at an average rate of $25,000. Today, she’s getting as many as 30 inquiries weekly, some for dates as far out as 2023.
“Weekends are busy. I am booked back to back and loving it,” Barrios said. “It’s such a special event for our culture.”
In Los Angeles — where Latinos make up 48.6% of the population, according to the latest U.S census — quinceañeras are a pillar of social calendars in many households. A quinceañera is a celebration in a debutante ball style with Catholic overtones, typically starting with a Mass. Then there’s choreographed dancing, music, food and symbolic events marking a celebrant’s arrival into adulthood.
A typical quinceañera costs more than $21,000 and includes more than 200 guests, according to a 2019 study done by Mi Padrino, an organization dedicated to Latino event planning.
That makes these parties a big business for event planners, venues, party rental businesses, bands, dress shops and choreographers. All suffered a major blow when most quinceañeras, along with weddings, Sweet 16s, proms, bar and bat mitzvahs and other celebrations went on hold.
Cynthia Garcia, a choreographer and owner of My Quince Dances, said now that COVID-19 restrictions have eased she is getting triple the number of inquiries she did before the pandemic. There’s so much demand that she has to turn down some customers.
“I offer them the information of other choreographers, and I let them know these people may be able to help you,” Garcia said. “But we can’t take everyone.”
With some clients, Barrios has been trying to pick up where she left off during the pandemic. She said she has managed to retain 80% of her bookings from 2020, many of whom have been forced to reschedule their big day.
“A lot of people rescheduled like three times, and are just now having their events,” she said. “I’ve been planning with them for over two years.”
If Ashley Soltero had turned 15 in any other year, her quinceañera would have been much, much different.
For some clients, there have been too many stops and starts: “Everybody’s thinking, ‘Oh, this is gonna be over in three months. Oh, this is going to be over in six months, nine months,’ and then you got 12 months,” she said. “Some ended up canceling.”
Though many festivities are back on, the pandemic has in some ways changed the shape of the celebrations. Garcia and Barrios said they are now seeing quinceañeras become smaller and even transition away from typical venues. In some cases that means backyard parties with no more than 40 guests.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that events where not all the participants are fully vaccinated be held outdoors, with social distancing and frequent cleaning of facilities.
In some parts of Southern California, events business organizers have seen business wane in recent weeks amid rising COVID-19 caseloads.
This quinceañera boom won’t last forever — it’s not every year when 16-year-olds are celebrating quinces too. For Barrios, 60% of current clients are deferred 2020 celebrants.
No matter the birthday girl’s age, Barrios said it’s a day they should be proud of, with all the glitz and glamour.
“I love what it represents, for my culture, and for the young ladies growing up here in the United States,” she said. “It’s a mixture of our traditions with pop culture, with social media, with celebrity weddings, all mixed into one — they pull from every aspect of the events industry, and then they mix it with our culture.”