Raúl Mendiola started the Emporium half a century ago as a way to showcase the best arts and crafts that Mexico has to offer. He began in the historic Pasaje Rodríguez but quickly outgrew the place. He moved to larger quarters at the entrance to Pasaje Sonia, next door to the historic Hotel Caesar, where he’s been ever since. In that time, his offerings have diversified, he’s added two partners (a cousin and a godson), and he’s created thousands of repeat customers from around the world.
The shop looks to have outgrown its present location as well. It’s stuffed floor to ceiling with collectible items – fine Taxco silver jewelry, stained-glass windows, repoussé tin wall ornaments, ceramic birds, talavera from Puebla and Tonalá, unique stoneware from Ken Edwards’s atelier, wood carvings and black pottery from Oaxaca, fine ceramic sculptures by the artist Tlalli, pure cotton guayabera shirts from Mérida, local stained glass, and for Christmas, nativity scenes (known as nacimientos or pesebres) in a variety of media from all over Mexico.
Mendiola attributes the success of the Emporium to the philosophy of the three partners: “honesty, quality, service”. The merchandise is accurately described and fairly priced. Selection is unusually broad. Not just a piece or two from Ken Edwards, instead, the entire Collection Series is available from open stock. Not just run-of-the-mill Oaxacan woodcarvings, but rare pieces from recognized masters like Gerardo Ramírez of San Antonio Arrazola and the Tribus Mixes of Trinidad de Viguera. As for service, “if a customer is afraid because of those stories they read in their local papers, we’re happy to drive them in our own cars to a restaurant or to the border, or wherever they want to go. We want our customers to feel comfortable here,” says Mendiola.
Customer education is also important. The shop maintains a display case full of imitation silver, silver plate, and alpaca (German silver) in order to contrast them with sterling silver and to demonstrate the differences both in quality and price.
For in-depth appreciation of their folk art, there’s even a list of recommended reading:
Oaxacan Woodcarving: The Magic in the Trees by Shepard Barbash
Mexican Folk Art: From Oaxacan Artist Families by Arden Aibel Rothstein
Arts and Crafts of Mexico by Chloë Sayer
Talavera Poblana: Four Centuries of a Mexican Ceramic Tradition by Margaret Connors McQuade
Mexican Silver: Modern Handwrought Jewelry and Metalwork by Penny C. Morrill
Little wonder that the shop has developed a very loyal following – thanks to whom the Emporium is one of the few places on Revolución able to weather the current economic downturn. People from Europe and Asia, who might have been to the shop only once, continue on as mail-order customers. And then there’s the group from Nebraska that’s been coming to Tijuana every year for the last two decades in order to celebrate Mendiola’s birthday with him.
Christmas is a special time at the Emporium because they get to showcase the work of a local artist. Armando Guzmán started out working in papier-mâché sculpture, a traditional folk medium. He still works in it today but somewhere along the line he got the idea of applying the same technique to leather. The results are striking – and found nowhere else. Leaded stained glass, the work of other Tijuana artisans, also lends itself to the season in the form of Christmas tree ornaments that are also unique to the Emporium.
The Emporium has been a leader in the efforts to revitalize Avenida Revolución. It’s a founding member of the local merchants’ association Ceturmex, which actively promotes a positive image for the area. It was also one of the first to be certified by Baja California’s department of tourism, a demanding process that involves being approved by Profeco (the national attorney for the protection of consumers) and Cotuco (the Tijuana Convention and Visitors Bureau). “To get the Distinguished Host certificate here on Revolución,” said Mendiola, “Cotuco requires that that we not send employees onto the sidewalk to rope in the customers, that we post our prices clearly, that we guarantee our merchandise, and that we represent the quality of our merchandise truthfully. We’re offering positive reasons for the tourists to return to Revolución.”
As part of their efforts encouraging people to visit Revolución, the Emporium has made available through this blog a discount coupon good for ten percent on in-store purchases. For your coupon, just click the link. (But, please, only one coupon per customer.)
Avenida Revolución between Fourth and Fifth, along side the historic Hotel Caesar. Open from 9:00am to 6:00pm every day of the week. E-mail contact through Reader Service of this blog.
Some of pieces in the Emporium's collection are also available online, such as the work of Ken Edwards, Pedro Tecayehuatl, Armando Guzmán, and Tlalli by following this link.