May 18, 2015

A Super Sweet Quince Economy

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

Growing up in Chicago, there were parts of the city that we’d go to to buy certain products. If we needed shoes or clothing, we’d walk or take the bus over to Maxwell Street to shop at places like Chernin’s, Mike’s, or the open-air market. If we wanted pan dulce (a traditional Mexican sweet bread) we’d go to Eighteenth Street to check out one of the many panaderias located there.  If my parents were looking for a piece of jewelry as a present for someone, they’d head over to Jeweler’s Row in downtown Chicago on Wabash.  

As I got older and had a little bit of pocket money, my friends and I would walk over to Cermak and Western to check out one of the many trendy (and affordable) clothing shops in that area.  Even now, on my trips back home, I often stop by Eighteenth Street in Pilsen to check out vintage items at one of the many second-hand shops, and by Twenty-Sixth Street to pick-up some traditional Mexican food items that I can’t find in Galesburg.

This clustering of similar businesses in a given area is common across many cities and can be convenient for customers. There is only one place to visit in order to compare prices and products.  This can be particularly useful for residents who rely on public transportation, bicycles, or walking as their form of transportation.  For customers who drive, it can also help to cut down on automobile traffic and air pollution.

While this concentration may be advantageous for customers, it can create hostility amongst small business owners with varying visions of a business district. In a recent blog post in OC Weekly, author Gustavo Arellano (who you may know from his syndicated column ¡Ask a Mexican!) calls out what he claims are the many critics of quinceañera (quince) shops that line Fourth Street in downtown Santa Ana, California.

In many Latin@ cultures, a quinceañera is a birthday celebration that includes a religious ceremony and a party for a girl who has turned 15.  These events require quite a bit of planning, special clothing items (a ball gown for the birthday girl, and possible outfits for the chambelanes and damas), symbolic gifts, like la última muñeca, and, depending on the event, things like a DJ, flowers, and a photographer. Quinceañera shops often carry (or make) the gowns, dresses, and suits worn for the events, the doll, and also may have contact information or contract vendors for the variety of other items needed.

In response to the proliferation of quince shops on FourthF Street, local chef and small business owner, Jason Quinn, stated:

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.

Another critic stated:

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.

Both of these business owners seem to miss that 1) these shops are competitive (or else they wouldn’t survive) and 2) that quince shops offer a variety of services that extend beyond the one-day quinceañera celebration. Arellano highlights this latter point in his piece.

Is it possible to have similar kinds of stores in an area and still be successful? Absolutely!

The quince shops, along with the businesses my family and I often frequent(ed) in Chicago, are examples of agglomeration economies. Urban Economics and Organizational Theory highlight that businesses within a similar field may benefit from locating near each other. These benefits may include lower costs of production, increased suppliers, and more customer traffic (and therefore more customers). Within agglomeration economies these businesses may also experience or engage in innovative practices that stem from information exchange and competition – this can then lead to greater competition and creativity. So there aren’t only benefits for the customers, but also for businesses that locate near each other.  

Despite their criticisms, the small business owners quoted above seem to understand the value of clustering similar types of businesses together.  For instance, Quinn is supportive of the Fourth Street food market that opened earlier this year; he plans to move his bakery, Dough Exchange, into the building and will have three food stands inside. According to an article in the OC Register, Quinn understands the benefits his businesses will receive from the “critical mass generated by the cluster of eateries under one roof.”  

Given that some of the quince shop critics benefit from agglomeration economies, the competition that they allude to seems to be much more about issues of space, class, and race, rather than business survival. It’s not about the concentration of similar businesses – because clearly eateries and trendy restaurants are okay. Rather, it is about a specific kind of business that caters to a specific clientele that creates a problem for critics, such as Quinn, who have a very different vision of “the future” of a changing Fourth Street.


well inspired.!!!!!!!DUDE!!!!!!

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