Economic Recession has Quinceañera boutiques in unfamiliar predicament

But the economic downturn is forcing families to cut back on expenses, putting a damper on the excitement and – for these establishments – on the big profits.

The quinceañera is the traditional Hispanic rite of passage celebration for young women. Basic expenditures include the dress and accessories, cakes, invitations, party-room rentals and decorations, and music and entertainment. Many quinceañeras also rent limousine services for the night – all of which adds up to thousands of dollars. According to Hearst Digital Media, which in 2007 launched its own quinceañera Web site, misquincemag, as many as 400,000 young women have quinceañeras in the United States every year. In 2006, on-line, party-planning Web site Partyspot reported the average cost of the celebration at $8,000.

But recently, those figures have dropped. Quinceañera specialty boutiques, such as Precious Bride, are not only feeling the pinch from families spending less, they’re also seeing less customers overall.

"During the weekdays, no one comes in anymore," said Carolina Osorio, sales associate at Precious Bride.

"On weekends, we were packed, but now, we only get a few customers. There’s not much to do," she said.

The shop has been in business on Whittier Boulevard for more than 12 years but has never faced such a grim sales period. Management has been forced to cut back prices and reduce staff in efforts to stay in business.

Dresses, for example, range in price from $200 to upwards of $1,500. Those that cost $800 two years ago are now $400. Still, people are being frugal.

"She wanted a $700 dress, but we can only afford a $200 one – same for the shoes. We’ve had to cut down on expenses," said Alfonso Mendoza, who’s preparing for his daughter’s quinceañera.

As recently as 2007, there were five sales associates on staff at Precious Bride. Now, it’s down to Osorio and another worker. She said she used to work a 40-hour week, but her hours gradually fell to the point she was asked to work Sundays only.

"We’re thinking about shutting down once our contract expires," she said.

Just a few blocks up the street at Casa Gastelum, the situation is just as bleak.

"We would sell merchandise everyday, but now, we’ll go an entire week without selling anything," said Carmen Gonzalez, a sales associate at Casa Gastelum.

Like Precious Bride, it’s failing to break even or make enough money to pay rent, and it’s the duration of the economic downturn that has management desperate and concerned.

"When someone walks in here, we’re not letting go of them until they buy something," said Gonzalez.

One of the few customers to stop by, Irene Dominguez, said she is organizing a very simple party for her daughter.

"My husband can’t find a job," she said. "Sometimes he works only three days a week so there’s no budget to throw anything too expensive."

Gonzalez said they want to keep the establishment open but may not have a choice.

"We can wait it out until our contract is over and close, or we can move to another location," she said.

But across town in West Los Angeles, things aren’t much better. Alba Sandoval, manager at Elizabeth’s Bridal, has seen her profit cut in half over the last year.

Her boutique specializes in bridal and quinceañera accessories such as mementos, invitations, rosaries, and silverware.

Sandoval said customers walk into her store asking for "the simplest of everything."

"I see fewer customers coming in, and those that do buy are buying less," she said.

The extent and severity of the economic bust is seen not only in the way in which families are being forced to cut back expenses on an often lavish, centuries-old, semi-religious tradition, but also in how a highly-profitable specialized business is subsequently being driven into bankruptcy.

"It’s never been this bad," said Gonzalez. "I just don’t know what we’re going to do.

"For many of these businesses on Whittier Boulevard, the party may indeed – if only temporarily – soon be over.

Obama’s Message of Hope and Change Cuts Across Race and Age

The day was especially meaningful in communities such as South Los Angeles, site of violent race riots over the years and home to a largely minority population.

At Foshay Learning Center, hundreds of people, including students, teachers, and community members, packed the school auditorium to watch the inauguration events on a giant television screen. The event was organized by Community Coalition, a nonprofit organization founded in 1990 that works with African American and Latino residents of South Los Angeles to build more prosperous and productive neighborhoods.

Since he announced his candidacy for president in February 2007, Obama has espoused the twin promises of hope and change – motifs he extolled during his inaugural address and which, on this day, were not lost on the students and members of this community.

South Los Angeles resident Andru Pervenue anticipates a new era for the country.

"This shows what Americans can accomplish when they pull together. I’m hoping for a new mindset. This is a new day in this country," he said.

Obama opened his speech and his presidency allaying the nation’s fears but also challenging its citizens to work and sacrifice for one another much like their ancestors had done for them in the past.

"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord," he said.

In closing, Obama alluded to the hopeful spirit of the nation’s first president as he crossed the icy Delaware River uncertain of what the future held for him and his rag-tag army.

"America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words," said Obama. "With hope and virtue, let us brave these icy currents, and endure what storms may come."

As the new president spoke, tears streamed down the faces of people in the auditorium. South Los Angeles resident, Ira Anderson, said, "I’m doing great right now. Wonderful. I couldn’t be better."

Both before and after Obama’s address, community leaders and students spoke to the hundreds gathered, encouraging them to take the new president’s message and put it into practice.

Foshay principal Veronique Wells reminded students it was never too late to make changes for the better. She recounted how when he was a young man at Occidental College, President Obama became involved in situations he realized were detrimental to his future. The changes he made, said Wells, enabled him to one day hold the highest government office in the nation. She encouraged members of her community to organize for personal and social change.

Richard Aviles, a senior student at Foshay who wants to attend college in Minnesota, said he had been looking forward to this day for a long time.

"Today I walked down the street proud of being gay and being Latino," said Aviles.

Aviles believes the message of change and hope attracted many youth like him to the Obama campaign. He takes pride in having helped elect the nation’s first minority president.

He says Obama’s victory is not only a triumph for the African-American community but for the Hispanic community as well.

"The struggles of our cultures are different but our fight is the same. It’s very meaningful because he is a representation of that fight," said Aviles.

Aviles hopes to bring change to his community by asking city officials for more money for education and fighting to reduce gang violence.

Another senior at Foshay, Jeffreda Clark, said President Obama has changed her outlook on her own future.

"I did not think, even two years ago, that a black person could become president of the United States," said Clark.

But now things are different.

"He shows us that we can become anyone we want in politics. Words cannot express how I feel today. It’s a historic moment for all minorities," said Clark.

Community Coalition chose to have the watching party at Foshay Learning Center because of the impact the inauguration could have on youth and the school’s involvement in the community. Coalition organizers, such as Lizette Hernandez, expressed similar feelings to the students they hope to inspire.

Hernandez said it’s a proud day for both the black and Latino communities.

"Our communities have been oppressed by the same forces," said Hernandez. "We have fought alongside one another for so many decades and today I feel proud. It has opened up many roads for opportunities."

"We want the kids to know that they are part of this journey. They will be building on the work of past generations and it up to them to transcend race and take it to the next level," she said.

Mattie Marie Jones, a senior citizen, came to the inauguration with other members from her senior center in South Los Angeles. Born in Arkansas, she has lived in South Los Angeles for more than 50 years and witnessed the various, often violent, phases of the Civil Rights movement.

"I was very peaceful," she said. "This morning, I felt it was going to be a peaceful day in my life."

She believes President Obama will serve to inspire minority children but that’s only half the battle.

"I think he’s a good example for children. However, youth have to be willing to make this change. It’s not just about Barack alone. It’s about the individuals," she said.

President Obama’s supporters came from all races and ages on this day in this community. South Los Angeles resident, Andru Pervenue, felt it was an unbelievable day for all members of the community.

"Im feeling great. I only hope that this jubilation lasts the entire eight years," he said.