Local business owner accentuates southwestern culture in gift shop
Conquering her fear of opening a business, Marisol Flores-Aguirre recently opened a gift shop that was inspired by her appreciation of Mexican culture.
On Ninth Street, just around the corner from Fourth Avenue, Latin music will lead you through the alley gate and into a large white building known as Chulas.
Chulas opened in December 2019 and is owned by Tucson native Marisol Flores-Aguirre. It is a curated gift shop, meaning that everything in the shop is hand-picked by Flores-Aguirre.
Flores-Aguirre said she was inspired by her appreciation of Mexican culture and her love for Tucson and that although Tucson has a great business scene, she felt that there was something missing.
“I was inspired by some shops in [Los Angeles]. They were really small, but it was really adding to the culture down there,” Flores-Aguirre said. “I felt like there was a miss between offering a culturally focused gift shop that highlighted artesanos that are local and international with this kind of feel.”
Flores-Aguirre said that she comes from an entrepreneurial family. After finishing her undergraduate in health education from the University of Arizona, she worked with her father at his advertising and consulting firm. Flores-Aguirre said the “hustle” runs in her family.
In 2014, Flores-Aguirre graduated with a master’s degree from Eller College of Management at the UA. She then worked at the Young Women’s Christian Association for about three and a half years. She began as the Women’s Business Center director, where she guided women in starting their own businesses. Flores-Aguirre said she always had a passion for business, but that it was something she “was afraid to do on her own.”
In January 2019, Flores-Aguirre started working at Eller College as a mentor in residence for the McGuire Program and co-teaches a class on innovation. The McGuire Program is a year-long program that helps students whose primary goal is to start a business.
Flores-Aguirre said community service and her drive to help others has been “a part of her identity” for her entire life. Her parents taught her the importance of community.
“My parents wanted us to make sure that as we were working hard to be the best we could be that we were also opening doors for other people,” Flores-Aguirre said. “I can’t really say when it all started, it just always was. Activism calls to your spirit.”
Flores-Aguirre said she was always drawn to business, but fear stood in the way. However, she said her drive to highlight Mexican culture and artists inspired her to combat that fear.
Chulas sells a variety of household, personal and stationery items as well as self-care products. These products come primarily from women and Chicanx makers and artists from the Southwest, such as Arizona, Texas, California and different parts of Mexico.
Flores-Aguirre emphasized that one of her primary goals is to be intentional with the shop. She wants to empower the artists and make sure they are setting the tone in terms of price agreements with the artists.
“Part of the really cool thing about our shop is that we work on building relationships. If you ask me anything about any piece in the shop, I can tell you who made it and where it came from,” Flores-Aguirre said.
Among the many artists featured at Chulas is Tucson native Estefany Gallego. Gallego owns a small batch candle company called Velitas and currently sells her products online, at pop-up shops and at Chulas. Gallego said she chose to sell at Chulas because of the intentions and goals the shop has.
“I am extremely happy and grateful that Velitas is part of Chulas. The culturally focused space they created along with working with women and makers is absolutely amazing,” Gallego said in a text message. “To me, it gave me a sense of belonging, and I’m sure others will feel the same way.”
Gallego said her business relationship with Flores-Aguirre has “flourished” and that her experience working with her has been nothing less than amazing. According to Gallego, something special about Chulas is that when you shop there, you aren’t only supporting one business but a variety of small businesses.
Flores-Aguirre said that valuing the “work, art, history and tradition” of the artists is something she finds very important.
“Highlighting the beauty and complexity of their work is super important to me,” Flores-Aguirre said. “If we don’t invest in the makers, the traditions get lost.”
Kerri Lopez-Howell is the executive director of the Sunnyside Foundation and is an adjunct professor at the UA. Lopez-Howell worked with Flores-Aguirre at the Young Women’s Christian Association and has known her for about five years.
“[Chulas] is a shining replication of who she is as a person,” Lopez-Howell said in a text message. “It is more than a store, it is a movement of empowering female/latinx makers while also sharing and celebrating latinx with a broad audience.”
Flores-Aguirre said she will always be grateful that she took the leap despite the fear. She said “the act of doing took away the fear.”
Flores-Aguirre said she hopes that when people walk into the store, they are excited and they can see themselves represented there. She said she believes there is something in the store for everyone and that it is open and welcome to everyone.
“I hope that this space is making a small offering to the community that has given me so much and nurtured me,” Flores-Aguirre said. “Tucson has something magical. I hope that this space can become a little part of that magic.”
Chulas is located at 423 E. Ninth St. and is open Friday through Sunday. Their Friday and Saturday hours are from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. and their Sunday hours are from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. To learn more about Chulas visit their Instagram @chulasaz, their Facebook page, or their website.
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