MILWAUKEE - Tucked away near Milwaukee’s 13th and Oklahoma neighborhood is a buzzing boutique. It’s family-owned and bursting at the seams with everything you need for a special occasion – and "Variedades Gonzalez" is run by a powerful trifecta.
"It’s my grandma who, she does alterations, my mom who is our boss and then it’s my sisters, three of us, and we all work here," explained sales associate Cindy Gonzalez.
Gonzalez said her family's work dynamic makes for a unique work environment.
"It’s a blessing and a curse because I mean, we’re all family, so it’s not like it changes anything. Your mom is bossing us here. She bosses us at home, but we trust each other. We know each other’s weaknesses and strengths," Gonzalez said.
The shop caters to men, women and children, but their specialty is quinceañeras.
"I feel like this is a one-stop shop," Gonzalez said.
Quinceañeras are popular celebrations in Hispanic and Latin American culture marking a girl’s 15th birthday.
"A quinceañera is a young lady going into adulthood," Gonzalez said. "It’s a lot that goes into a quinceañera."
And that's not an exaggeration. Celebrations kick off with a church service or a blessing for the birthday girl. It's followed by pictures with family and friends – and then a reception with food, music and dancing.
"It’s probably even bigger than a wedding now," Gonzalez explained.
A court of young ladies and gentlemen of her choosing will accompany the birthday girl. Families decide the size of the celebration; whether the guest list is hundreds or a few dozen.
At the center of this tradition is finding the perfect dress. That's where the Gonzalez family comes in.
"It’s the dress, the bouquet, the crown, accessories. There’s also a little cushion for the crown. There’s more for people to sign their book the day of the event. It’s a lot that goes in," Gonzalez said.
That special dress doesn't come with an ordinary price tag.
"Prices are from $700 to $2,000," Gonzalez said.
The Gonzalez family orders the dresses from vendors. They do not have control over recent price increases caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but they do offer lay-away plans so customers of all backgrounds can purchase their dream dress.
"We want the girls to feel like princesses when they try on their dresses here," Gonzalez said.
Cindy’s mother, Lety Gonzalez, said customers travel from far and wide to their store.
Once girls find the perfect dress, it is time for alterations. These are no ordinary alterations. They require experience and wisdom from knowing hands.
"These are general sizes. It’s not like, one dress can fit all," Cindy Gonzalez said. "It’s pretty difficult because of all the beading, all the decorations."
The credit goes to their grandmother, Juana Torres.
"It brings me joy when this little space is filled with people. I say, ‘Thank you, God,’" Torres said.
Originally, from Jalisco, Mexico -- the Gonzalez family worked hard for the American dream.
"I remember there was nothing," Lety Gonzalez told FOX6 News. "Nothing is easy."
Lety and her husband started the boutique 17 years ago with only a few pieces of jewelry. She keeps a photo of those early days in the shop. The struggles of those early days came back when the pandemic shut them down.
"We did not open for three months," Lety Gonzalez recalled.
They almost didn’t make it.
"People had to postpone their parties or had to cancel," Cindy Gonzalez said. "We lost a lot."
But with faith and perseverance, they made it through the worst. Now, they are busier than ever – as quince parties are back in full swing. They are also bigger and bolder than ever.
"Back in the days, there used to be only blush, light blues, yellows. Now, there’s a variety of different colors. There’s dark, black, emerald. It’s all the different colors and beadings," Cindy Gonzalez said.
The Gonzalez family hopes to soon expand their boutique space all while continuing to provide a one-of-a-kind customer experience.
"We are a family business, and we want them not to feel like our customers. We want them to feel like family," Cindy Gonzalez explained.
It is a family that extends beyond the walls of the boutique, carrying on special traditions for generations to come.