When locals of Northern Denver stroll around the neighborhoods, many reminisce about what the community once was and represented. Gentrification has brought many changes to streets once filled with Latino culture. Businesses, residents, and the foundation of the Latino culture are disappearing. Many residents left the community they grew up in, taking with them impressions that the culture that reflected a piece of them, will slowly but surely fade away.
However, Maria Moncada, owner of La Guapa Boutique on 38th Avenue on the border of Highland and Sunnyside, intends to keep the Latino culture alive regardless of the rapid gentrification taking place.
“It keeps the culture alive in Northern Denver for people to still drive by and see this mom and pop shop surviving it all. Through the pandemic and the gentrification. For people to drive by and see us, it helps a lot for people to keep going.”
La Guapa Boutique resides alongside other Latino businesses that continue to symbolize the origins and culture of Northern Denver. Open for more than 20 years, La Guapa Boutique is a staple to the Latino Community as it continues to provide vibrant and elegant garments and accessories. They are pieces that are monumental to the cultural events and growth of young Latinas and Latinos. Moncada plans to keep this shop running for generations to come to continue the tradition and the importance of these cultural events.
Raised as the only women in her family alongside four brothers, Moncada shares the history of La Guapa Boutique and how she’s continued the mission and values her parents, Graciela and Salvador, established when beginning the business back when she was a little girl.
“They began the business more than 20 years ago. They were selling clothes from our home and from there on they saved money to open this business. I was 8 when this business started, and there’s still customers who come by and say they know my mother from years ago when she was still selling from home. It’s such a beautiful feeling to know that they still remember her and the work she’s put into the business.”
Moncada continues to keep her parents’ values and their legacy alive. Passion and sincerity radiate as clients enter the boutique. Moncada makes sure that every client leaves with their dream dress and a once in a lifetime experience.
“It’s a deeper connection opposed to just selling them something. It’s not just a dress. It’s making sure everything matches, and giving them suggestions.”
Quinceaneras are when a young girl turns 15, it indicates the transition from a little girl to a young woman, the start of maturity, independence, and affirmity to their own faith. Moncada makes it her purpose to connect with her client to create this experience, and to ensure they leave the boutique feeling beautiful. They are not just dresses but a piece of these young girls’ cultural experiences, Moncada expresses the gratification of being a part of this process and forming a connection with the young girls through it.
“It’s making someone’s special day that they’ll remember forever and hopefully they keep remembering us and come back for their wedding, their kids’ occasions. It’s a long term commitment we have with these girls and these families. It’s nice to see them through it all and have them come back again.”
Because of gentrification in Northern Denver, these connections have been affected. People forced out of the community due to higher living expenses have to travel further to visit her store.
“It’s not how it was before, which was primarily Mexican people. Now there’s a lot less than that, people who have moved away go to the outskirts of cities because that’s where “they fit in” or places like Aurora or Thornton.”
Moncada, continues to advocate for the Latino Community, especially the younger generations of women where she derives her motivation. Posting on social media and funding fashion shows where she advocates for the importance of these cultural events and the message that they are not going anywhere.
“If we don’t put in the effort to make these girls feel important, and that this is a part of their culture and they need to have a quinceanera or any event of our culture for that matter. If they don’t have the importance, or feel seen, that will be the downfall of our business. It’s our job to keep it going and to keep wanting these events.”
Moncada makes it very clear that this business is a safe space for her clients, a place to reconnect with their culture wholeheartedly. Gentrification may be rising in Northern Denver, but La Guapa Boutique represents the roots of the community and its Latino culture.
“Sometimes, it’s ‘why would you wear that big dress, you’re not getting married.’ People don’t understand our culture, or what we do as families and for us to still be here and have them come here keeps that culture going in the community. It’s just showing them we’re still here for them, and we could still help them in their native language.”
With two decades and more in the making, Moncada continues to uphold both the values of her family business and the origin and culture of Northern Denver. Moncada vocalizes the empowerment, representation, and culture of these garments to those in the community. La Guapa Boutique continues to survive and allows clients to leave the store feeling “guapa.”