After 30 years in business, Picante Designs is closing its doors permanently at the end of July.
The store’s owner, Hazel Rugg, says it’s time to retire.
“I want to do some other things,” Rugg said. “I’m going to miss my customers. I have mixed feelings, but, you know, I’m tired. I’ve been doing retail standing on my feet for 50 years, and I think I’ve done it enough. I want to travel and really I just want to sit down and not do anything and not have to go anywhere. Although, I think that’s a dream, but in any case, that’s my plan.”
The colorful midtown store combines everything you love about Mexico and Arizona into one local shop, selling skull figures, jewelry, textiles, clothing, handbags, home furnishings, tableware, ceramic figures, folk art, handmade crafts and more.
Picante’s most popular product is oilcloth. Several brightly colored rolls of it sit in a crate at the front of the store.
“It all comes from Mexico,” Rugg said. “I think other stores carry it, but I have a big collection ... It’s fun. It’s like ‘I dare you to put that on your table and not feel good about the day.’ ... Oilcloth pays our rent.”
Rugg hopes to sell all of her inventory before the doors close for good. Everything is marked down by at least 25 percent, except for the oilcloth and some sterling silver Mexican jewelry. Prices will probably go down as the closing date gets closer.
The plan is to close July 31, but she may stay open 10 to 15 days longer if she still has a lot of inventory and nobody is scheduled to move into the shop’s space.
Picante Designs has been a labor of love since it opened in its first location downtown next to Yike’s Toys — which was also owned by Rugg and several partners at the time — 30 years ago.
Picante has spent the last 17 years in its current location at 2932 E. Broadway.
Since her days downtown, Rugg has seen generations of shoppers come through her store.
“I have had people come into my store when they were pregnant and now their kids are coming in with the grandkids,” Rugg said. “So, it’s like generations of shoppers. It’s really amazing when I see a friend come in with her daughter and she’s this tall woman and she has children and you’re like, ‘How did this happen?’ ”
As a child, Rugg traveled a lot to Mexico, so she’s always been interested in the culture.
Plus, she was inspired by an old store she visited with her mom.
“My first job was in a store similar to this in a way, not clothing, but lots of crafts from all over the world,” Rugg recalled. “It was called Desert House and it was owned by John Tanner. ... My mom used to take me to his store as a kid, and I wanted to work there. And when I graduated from college with a degree in English literature, I went to work as a retail clerk.”
When Picante first opened, Rugg made the clothing she sold there out of fabric from Guatemala and then it “morphed into a store,” she said.
Her focus for clothing has always been natural fabrics, so she likes to sell handmade clothing — as in hand-stitched — and hand-embroidered things from Mexico, as well as handwoven pieces from Guatemala.
“Part of why I started the store was really to share all the beauty that’s created in the world by hand. ... I think handmade things are really worth the extra money you pay,” Rugg said. “There’s a certain energy in them. ... Things made by hand and one-of-a-kind things really have a special place in my heart, and I hope people in the future appreciate that. I guess part of the thing is, like with these blouses, is to honor the women who make them and the men who make them. This is how they make their living and they do a fantastic job ... I can’t imagine how they make them. It just seems like magic.”
Rugg can tell you a story related to every collection in her store. There are the handwoven textiles with hand-dyed threads that she saw women in Guatemala working on. There are the skull boxes made in Mexico, much like the one she bought the first time she went for All Souls’ Day. The box didn’t make it home in one piece, but she had a sugar skull from the trip in her fridge for years.
Sharing stories and personal interactions with shoppers is the one thing Rugg says she will miss the most.
“I think that’s what has made this store popular is you can talk to people. You get people who come in and want to look at everything because it’s bright colors and it’s fun and it makes them feel good. And they just want to chat, maybe,” Rugg said. “So it’s a little bit like social work. But it’s reciprocal.”