La Cuatro Ahora: Long-standing businesses remember a time before construction

La Cuatro for WEB-1
Mr. Gomez has since moved, but his business persists down a different street. Photo by Lupita Contreras / el Don

Reporting done by Lizeth Martinez and Lupita Contreras.

The OC Streetcar is set to open in 2025 and construction is changing the character of downtown Santa Ana. Historic 4th Street, known as “La Cuatro,” was once a thriving commercial and cultural center for the neighboring Latino community. Now, luxury housing developments are popping up across the street from long-time street vendors. A beloved grocery store was torn down, forcing thousands to look elsewhere for culturally relevant produce. Slowly, La Cuatro’s defining spots are leaving and the locals are following. This is the community’s last chance to tell their stories.

La Cuatro was known for its blocks of. small businesses. A changing downtown leaves long-standing storefronts coping with the loss of community. We spoke with three who have persevered throughout construction and displacement.

Telas Fabrics | 114 E 4th St

After 33 years, owner Shawn Makhani is planning on leaving Calle Cuatro. Photo by Lizeth Martinez / el Don

What is your name and how long have you been in La Cuatro?

My name is Shawn Makhani, and I’ve owned this store on Calle Cuatro for 33 years now. The reason I came here was because of the Latino market. La Cuatro was a family oriented place and a nice neighborhood to have a business in.

Has business improved or do you think it will improve during the year?

I’m one of the people telling the city of Santa Ana that gentrification is happening on Calle Cuatro, and they have to stop it. What’s happening is that they have started these gentrification plans and getting rid of Latino families. It won’t get better if the community doesn’t get involved or if people don’t support us. Oddly enough, it’s worse than COVID now because there are no customers on the street. Our customers are Latino. When the city takes them away we don’t have customers. And when there are no customers there is no business, simple as that

I don’t know if you remember what Calle Cuatro used to be? It was a very family-oriented place, very nice, happy and with a lot of energy. People used to love to come here and enjoy their day, but now no one comes.

Where do you see your business in five years?

I’m thinking about closing my business at the end of the year. I was planning to close last year but decided to stay another year to see what was going to happen but it’s not getting better.

 

SHELSYES Bridal and Banquets | 220 W 4th St

“I don’t just one daughter, but now I have thousands of daughters,” says Minerva Alvarez on selling quinceañera dresses. Photo by Lizeth Martinez / el don

What is your name and how long have you been in La Cuatro?

My name is Minerva Alvarez and I am a designer. I have been here for 30 years. I started with wedding dresses. Quinceañera dresses are what I’m most passionate about. When girls come and go happily, I am happy. I don’t just one daughter, but now I have thousands of daughters. Back then, it was a very Latino market. It was everything except Anglo-Saxon. The Anglo-Saxons are coming now. I don’t know if the construction will benefit us but I know that it has harmed us. OCTA did not ask permission, they did not take us into account.

If you could preserve something from La Cuatro or Santa Ana, what would it be?

For my business to be able to continue with the girls who come and look for me. I have clients that I dressed them at 3 years old, communion, their quinceañera, their wedding and now I’m doing their daughters quinceañeras. That’s why I would like to preserve my business, because they are our roots. They are Latino roots that they have to follow. I treat all girls the same as I would like all girls to leave happy like mine; let them leave with a beautiful dress.

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Yerba Mex | 302 N Broadway

Mr. Gomez has since moved, but his business persists down a different street. Photo by Lupita Contreras / el Don

What’s your name? Tell us about yourself.

My name is Fidel Gomez Peril and I have been here for 30 years. I raised my children here in Santa Ana. All have graduated from university, I’m very proud. I studied metaphysics in my state of Mexico and was almost a lawyer. I now study theology and offered free classes before the pandemic. I’ve been working here with my partner since the 80’s. All my products fight diseases in a natural way. My products are from all over the world. I have also gone to Ensenada to pick up products.

Has your business changed?

I really don’t know if my store is going to last. During the pandemic I was supported by a Santa Ana councilmember but today I do not sell the same.

Yerba Mex changed locations due to building renovations. Its new address is 2040 S Main St Santa Ana, CA 92707, now called Botanica Sofia.

 

Mr. Diablito | Corner of Bush and 4th

Mr.Diablito has lived in Santa Ana since 1990 and persists on Calle Cuatro. Photo by Lupita Contreras / el Don

How do you feel about the OC Streetcar? 

We hope that with the OC Streetcar, more people will come. Before the pandemic, there used to be a small trolley. It existed so people could get a ride through downtown and view 4th St.

But very few would get on it despite it being free. 

There’s only four street vendors left. There used to be 11 of us over 20 years ago. With all this change, the other vendors have moved to plazas with more latinos. We’ve been here over 30 years. Up till now, the city hasn’t complained about us. But we persist.

 

Angel’s | 213 W 4th St

Employee Jaret Vargar has been working since before the COVID-19 pandemic struck and has become familiar with long-time costumers. Photo by Lizeth Martinez / el Don

What is your name and tell us about this business.

My name is Jaret Vargar. Here we are just two employees, me and the other girl. I’ve been working here for a year. Children who were four or five years old, come with their children. “I came to buy my quinceanera shoes here,” people say. Prices are also cheaper here than elsewhere. We are very economical and we have a variety of shoes, underwear, girls’ and boys’ clothes.

How do you feel about the OC Streetcar?

If the streetcar works and brings more people from outside as they think it will work, we’re going to do well. Hopefully this works out. People who haven’t been here in a while come and look for stores that are no longer here.

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