When you’re strolling down 24th Street in San Francisco’s Mission District, you can’t help but stop in your tracks as you are greeted by a display of luchador masks outside Mixcoatl’s storefront.
The store’s name — Mixcoatl — means ‘milky way’ in the Nahuatl language. It’s an apt name for a store that truly does bring together a wide range of regional and cultural crafts from Mexico and all over Central and South America.
Walk into the store, and you’ll stand in awe of the colorful array of handcrafted goods — hand woven purses from Guatemala, calaca earrings and vibrant guayaberas from Mexico.
Each piece is thoughtfully chosen by the store’s owners — Connie and Ricardo Rivera — in an effort to uplift artists throughout Latin America and to continue to share rich cultural histories with local residents.
For Connie Rivera, Mixcoatl’s owner, entrepreneurship runs in her blood.
Connie grew up in Toluca, Mexico, the capital of the central state of Mexico, living with her siblings, parents, and grandparents. Early on, her grandparents served as a strong source of inspiration for Connie. She drew from their admirable work ethic and the skillful way in which they navigated multiple jobs — as campesinos, artisans, and business owners — to provide for their family. They owned a business selling a variety of foodstuffs, from produce to candies, and as was the norm in Mexico, the whole family helped out.
Connie was not able to attend school, but she found a powerful education in helping her grandparents operate their small business:
‘We used to go to a market and my grandma would send me to the market to make a trade, like trading tomatoes for corn. These experiences were my schooling, and my grandparents were my first teachers, my first inspiration.”
When she moved to the U.S. with her husband in the late 1980’s, she knew that she wanted to channel her love for entrepreneurship into her own business venture.
Being far away from home, she felt a certain nostalgia for the colors, scents, and symbols of her home country, and she knew that other community members felt the same. And for those who might not have a direct connection to her country and culture, she wanted to find a way to share her traditions with them as well. This was the origin of Mixcoatl.
“Number one, when I came here and left home, I knew I wanted to promote my culture and keep it alive. And not just the culture from one town or one state, but from all over Central and South America. I also wanted to create something that would allow the many talented artisans to continue creating.”
She started her business on a smaller scale selling goods to friends and neighbors. When her brother would visit her from Mexico, she would ask him to bring a few handcrafted jewelry items with him to add to her inventory. She was able to sell these items quickly, so she started to think about expanding her business. But there were a couple things holding her back from taking the next step.
First, she was concerned about the financial investment she would need to make — an investment that would not just impact her, but also her family. At the time, she, her husband, and her two kids were living with a limited savings fund, and they knew they would need to take on debt in order to build their business. Her second concern was around finding the right resources to support her throughout the process. She knew she could not do this alone, and it wasn’t just financial support that she needed. How was she going to operate this business? Obtain the right licenses to operate?
Connie knew that she still had a lot to learn about being a business owner, but she was determined to find the right information.
As luck would have it, one day, as Connie was walking around the neighborhood, she happened to pass by a nonprofit organization that offered comprehensive support services for female business owners.
“I’m very curious when I want to know something, so I decided to knock on their door, and they opened it for me”
Soon, Connie enrolled in their 8-week program where she learned how to create a business plan, how to obtain the right licensing, and most importantly, she walked away with the confidence to pursue her business expansion.
Her next step was to secure a brick and mortar location. Just as a stroll in the neighborhood led her to find the right resources earlier, it was another neighborhood stroll that led her to secure her brick and mortar venue on 24th St & South Van Ness St. When she saw the empty storefront, her instinct confirmed that this was the right location for Mixcoatl. And of course, what better location than the Mission District — a neighborhood that has become a stronghold for the Latinx community.
Mixcoatl is located in what has now been designated the ‘Latino Cultural District.’
To address the effects of gentrification in this area, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution in 2014 designating a portion of this neighborhood as the Latino Cultural District. This designation serves as a commitment from both local government and community organizations:
“To preserve, enhance and advocate for Latino cultural continuity, vitality, and community in San Francisco’s touchstone Latino Cultural District and the greater Mission community.”– Calle 24 (Ventiquatro)
The maintenance and preservation of the Latino Cultural District is overseen by community group Calle 24 (Ventiquatro), and Mixcoatl is exactly the type of business that aligns with the mission of this cultural district. Mixcoatl is a store that aims to promote, preserve, and share Latin American culture by bringing authentic, unique, handmade pieces from Mexico and all over Central and South America.
Though Mixcoatl opened much before the resolution passed, the designation has been an important step in mitigating the displacing effects of gentrification and ensuring that new business owners maintain a commitment to the existing community — from who they serve, how they hire, and how they engage with the community.
Connie is proud of what she and her husband have been able to build. But her business has continued to experience financial ups and downs. It was during a period of financial struggle that she approached Mission Asset Fund (MAF). She heard about MAF from a friend, so she decided take another walk. This time, she walked to the MAF office.
After talking to MAF’s Client Success Manager, Doris Vasquez, she was drawn to the fact that MAF offered a zero-interest loan and found the application process easy and accessible. Connie decided to join MAF’s Lending Circles for Business program, and she used her first round of funds to buy cameras to improve store security. She loved the program so much that she decided to join another Lending Circle.
From Mission Asset Fund to a number of other local nonprofit organizations, Connie credits the strong ecosystem of community support in the Mission District as a blessing throughout her journey. But that being said, getting connected with the right resources was no easy task.
“Maybe the resources are there, but we don’t know where to go. It’s hard for small business owners because you’re often working by yourself with no employees, so it’s tough to find the time to ask for help. When you do take time out of your day, you feel like you’re losing revenue.”
What’s Connie’s next goal as a business owner? She has just opened up another store, Colibri, also located in the Latino Cultural District, so she’d like to continue to grow her new location. Colibri also sells handcrafted goods from Mexico and all over Central and South America. She also wants to get to a point where she can afford to hire another staff member. She would like to have more time to spend with her kids, and she’d also like to use her business as a platform to serve as a mentor and to create employment opportunities for youth.
“I want my story to inspire and motivate young people to believe in themselves. I want them to know that there’s always a door open for them. Also, as my dad always said, if you’re going to do something, give it 100% and do it with love.”
Operating a business has not been an easy journey for Connie, but her intuition and inherent drive to ask for the right resources have proven to be an invaluable resource.
In the story of both Connie and Mixcoatl, we see the beauty and power of businesses that are truly rooted in the community — not only do these businesses preserve and enhance a vibrant culture, but they have a built-in spirit of giving back to their community.
If you haven’t visited Mixcoatl, it’s a store you can’t miss:
3201 24th St
San Francisco, CA 94110