UPDATE, 3:11 P.M.: Talked to Quinn, and he said he "respects" all the businesses in downtown SanTana, old-school and New Wave and quinceañera shops included. Regarding his quote, Quinn said he was talking theoretically about why some businesses might thrive in the area while others close, and used quinceañera shops as a general example; he never meant to single them out. Good conversation between us, and we're going to meet in-person next week so I can interview him about his feelings on what's happening downtown because that's what journalism and being a good neighbor is about, right? Stay tuned…
ORIGINAL POST, APRIL 7, 8:03 A.M.: For the 13-plus years I've covered SanTana, nothing has amused me than the outright hatred the city's gentrifiers have toward the many quinceañera shops lining Fourth Street in downtown. In the early days, it was flat-out racist gabachos from Floral Park, French Park and other nice neighborhoods railing against them on Yahoo! message boards and in meetings with city staff. In the present day, it's a multicultural rainbow of hipsters who want those quinceañera shops out so another tired restaurant concept done four years ago in Los Angeles can take its place instead.
For these gentrifiers, the quinceañera shops is downtown's Skid Row: a black eye to the city, a place of embarrassment getting in the way of Progress, businesses that have no use in SanTana's Brave New World. At their most generous, the Brave New Urbanists consider the shops a joke–OH MY GOD, HOW COME MEXICAN GIRLS WEAR SO MANY RUFFLES AND SPARKLES HAHAHAHA! THEY LOOK LIKE GROWN-UP DORA THE EXPLORERS TEE HEE! The quinceañera shops so obsess these people, that they can't help but to show their true colors when prompted on the subject. And that's exactly what happened last week with Jason Quinn, chef-owner of the much-lauded Playground.
We've rightfully lauded Quinn many times on our food blog and dead-tree pages over the years, from his days as one of the co-owners of The Lime Truck , to his current role as owner of seemingly half of the stalls in the new 4th Street Market. But in an interview with the Voice of OC about gentrification on la Cuatro, Quinn let his quinceañera-fearing colors out for all to see.
The story itself was okay, if about seven years late. Writer-photographer Julie Leopo went to old-school and New Wave business owners in the area and asked them how they felt about all the changes. Quinn was the only person to bring up quinceañera shops, and boy, did he:
"There is this competition for every person who was coming through here, there is [sic] several shops that you can get a quinceañera dress. There is [sic] just too many, that's not a white-people-coming-in problem, there is just a lot of them…there is a natural competition, there's only so many girls turning 15, and you get their business once."
Where to begin…let's start with the pot-meets-kettle one. For years, the main critique gentrifiers have had of quinceañera shops in downtown is that there's too many of them, and that possibly can't be good economics. The funny thing is that the same argument applies to all the new restaurants in downtown SanTana, as saturation has led to them cannibalizing each other, leading to more closures of restaurants over the years than I've seen of quinceañera shops. People like Quinn argue that it's the market talking, yet they won't extend the same courtesy to quinceañera shops. Why? 'Cause Mexicans.
And that leads to Quinn's second argument, one that his fellow gentrifiers have made for years: there's only so many customers for a quinceañera shop. That shows the bubble these people live in. If they actually stepped into one, they'd see an array of services, from photography to baptisms, weddings, notary services, DJ services, party rentals and so much more. But betcha most of the gentrifiers trashing Fourth Street's quinceañera shops don't know this, because they've never visited one. Why? 'Cause Mexicans.
Quinn isn't the first prominent restauranteur to so publicly trash his quinceañera shop neighbors. In 2011, a previous pendejo went before the SanTana City Council and said, "You can't have the same shop, the same stores, the same exact same quinceañera shop across from the exact same quinceañera shop…exact same thing over and over again and expect to be successful. Times have changed. Fourth Street should change with those times."
That idiot is gone; the quinceañera shops are still on Fourth Street. And that should serve as a warning to Quinn and his fellow gentrifiers: food trends and hipster clientele come and go, but Mexican girls turn 15 forever…
PS: My Los Angeles Times pal Hector Becerra reminded me about a 2008 piece that somewhat addressed the topic at hand. In it, he interviewed Latino politicians and business people who wanted their Latino-majority business districts to move away from so-called "amigo" stores. One of the people interviewed? SanTana councilwoman Michele Martinez, who told Becerra "I have nothing against 50 quinceanera shops, but I don't shop there. Many of my friends don't shop there. Parents and grandparents may shop there, but young kids are not going to shop there, unless they're immigrants."
Woo-hoo! Latinos gentrifying Latinos–that's progress, right?
PPS, I just remembered that the greatest comedic portrayal of gentrification and hipsters EVER occurred on King of the Hill–and it involved a quinceañera. CRAZY!!! See the episode yourself as proof: