Three Latina entrepreneurs blossom at historic Bergfeld Center

Meet the owners of Mita Artisan Shoppe, Unique Brown Design and Cup O' Joy Teahouse

Anabel Magallanes, Jessica Mpiana and Blanca Villanueva each run wildly different businesses, but they have some things in common. They’re all Latina women under the age of 40 sharing a Mexican heritage. And they’re all running small businesses with storefronts on the same side of Eighth Street at historic Bergfeld Center shopping center in Tyler.

Opened in 1948, Bergfeld Center is one of the first and oldest shopping centers in the state and home to three Latina business owners who share storefronts on Eighth Street. All 📷 by Sarah A. Miller

Anabel Magallanes, Mita Artisan Shoppe

Magallanes, 39, of Tyler, didn’t know COVID-19 would cost her career as a licensed physical therapist assistant. In fact, the demand for coronavirus PPE would open the door to her new job as an entrepreneur and owner of Mita Artisan Shoppe in the Bergfeld Shopping Center.

“On May 1st of 2020, I lost my job due to COVID. I’m a licensed physical therapist assistant, but [business] was so slow, I got laid off,” Magallanes said.

Outside of physical therapy, Magallanes had another interest: selling items from Mexican artisans at First Mondays Trade Days in nearby Canton. She’d always loved exploring street markets in Mexico as a child with her grandmother, Mita.

“I had already been contacted by one of the artisans who makes Puebla dresses. She asked me if I was interested in helping them out, because due to COVID they were not making any sales,” she said.  “No one wanted to buy their clothing, so they started making masks. They told me it was their only way to sustain their families.”

Magallanes was hesitant to order, not knowing if the masks would sell well, but she wanted to help the artisans. She talked it over with her husband, and they decided to order a box of 200 handcrafted masks. That first shipment box arrived on May 2nd, the day after she had been laid off. Suddenly, Magallanes got serious about switching careers.

She posted pictures of the handcrafted, made in Mexico masks to her Snapchat and personal Facebook page. Each mask featured brightly colored embroidery on black fabric with floral or bird designs. “There’s not one that’s identical,” she said.

Magallanes’ entire stock sold in under two days.

“I was like, ‘Whoa, I just sold out.'”

Her next shipment of 500 masks were posted to the website Etsy and also sold out.

In December 2020 when Magallanes opened the door to her new store, Mita Artisan Shoppe, the clothes racks and tables were filled with beautifully handcrafted garments from Mexico including traditional indigenous textiles, blouses called huipils, children’s apparel, men’s and women’s shoes, headbands, keychains, bags, earrings and more. 

Magallanes explained that embroidery is a part of Mexican culture, and each state showcases its particular method and designs. The embroidery embellishes fabrics from shirts to tablecloths to headbands with color, designs and texture.

Two popular embroidery styles come Oaxaca in southern Mexico and the south central Mexican state of Puebla. The needlework designs include the tree of life, flowers, birds and geometric patterns. The state of San Antonio is known for its complicated motif a few inches below the neckline of the shirt collar featuring tiny embroidered people sometimes holding hands and wearing their own colorful clothing. 

Magallanes explained the importance of her shop’s location. “Being in Bergfeld Center means a lot because the name and location is very Tyler; it defines Tyler. It’s a very old shopping center, and it’s a beautiful opportunity to be here.”

Jessica Mpiana, Unique Brow Design

Licensed permanent makeup artist Jessica Mpiana, 26, of Unique Brown Designs leases the space next to Mita’s.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts at The University of Texas at Arlington and completing an apprenticeship, Mpiana was on the lookout for a spot to grow her own business.

“I came to Tyler literally weeks before the quarantine,” Mpiana said. At that time, she was renting a room in a salon, and the owners allowed her to hold off on rent payments during the business downturn.

“I didn’t go broke, I just went sad,” Mpiana said.

When she began looking for her own storefront, she noticed the two spaces at Bergfeld Center under renovation. She called Bergfeld Realty but quickly got cold feet on making a decision.

Then, a funny thing happened.

She called a few other places and looked at business suites, but every time she called about a location, it was the same man on the other side of the telephone — Brad Bergfeld, manager of Bergfeld Center. She decided to go with the spot at Bergfeld Center.

She opened her store on October 22, 2020.

“I was scared,” Mpiana said. “It was so scary to think of opening up your own thing. This was a huge move in my first year of my own business.”

Unique Brow Design offers cosmetic tattooing, also known as permanent makeup. Mpiana’s services include microblading, powder brows, eyeliner, lip color and touch-ups for returning clients.

Mpiana sees the face as a canvas for her art.

“I’ve spent my whole adult life studying the arts and figuring how to make art on your brows, eyes and lips and to see how it works as a full composition,” she said.

Mpiana’s work of inserting tint into the skin is semi-permanent. Some of the work fades over time, but the looks can be maintained with touch-up appointments over the years.

“Everything that I do lasts between one to three years,” she said, “So, whenever I get a client, I’m only going to see them one time and then maybe three years later. I’m having to work super hard to make sure new clients walk through the door all the time so that I can run the business.”

Although her art is technically a specialized type of tattoo, Mpiana explained that a cosmetic tattoo uses a different technique and different pigments that are better for the delicate skin on the face than what could be achieved with a traditional tattoo gun and ink.

“I get them in here before I really go into depth about it because many people are scared thinking of putting a tattoo on their face.”

Since Mpiana found her storefront while it was still under renovation, she was able to personalize it and create a calm aesthetic for her clients, many of whom are moms or people who lead busy lives. 

“I really wanted to create a polar opposite of a tattoo shop,” she said.

She created a relaxing space with white walls reminiscent of an art gallery.

“You’re the art here. You are the canvas. Many of the clients I get barely have any time to themselves, so it’s exciting to make them just focus on themselves,” Mpiana said.

Being born and raised in Dallas as a child of an immigrant mother from Mexico and an American dad, Mpiana has been proud to become a part of the Tyler community. 

Before deciding on the move to Tyler, Jessica and her husband Ibraham, a therapist who works with children with autism, considered other cities such as Temple. Ultimately, they chose Tyler because of the welcoming environment, large faith community and the flowers and trees.

“When you come from a condensed area to this area, it really is a natural beauty,” she said.

Mpiana also likes the fact that Tyler is a regional hub that draws in clientele from other East Texas towns such as Longview, Gladewater and Palestine.

“It’s really, really different here,” she said, comparing Tyler to the Dallas area where she grew up. “People are more talkative, more open. People here openly talk about God and their faith. And the roads are a lot easier.”

Blanca Villanueva, Cup O’ Joy Teahouse

A few yards down from Unique Brow Designs and Mita Artisan Shoppe, Bergfeld Center shoppers can visit Cup O’ Joy Teahouse. The shop opened on October 7, 2019, in the 900-square-foot space that formerly housed Academy Uniforms. Owners Blanca Villanueva, 27, and her fiancé Cris Cajero, 33, had a six month start as small businesses owners before facing the difficulties of the pandemic.

Villanueva’s original intent to open a restaurant changed during a visit to her cousin’s boba tea shop in California. Quickly, the couple pivoted to the idea to bring the Asian drinks to Tyler.

“He asked me if I wanted to get married or open a business, so of course I said open a business,” said Villanueva. “We were trying to open something small and not spend tons of money.” 

The vacant Academy space was on the market for lease for two weeks when Villanueva and Cajero decided to go for it. 

“I had to get guidance from my cousin on how to run the boba shop. I signed the contract and still had a lot to learn about tea and boba,” said Villanueva.

Not everyone is excited to try boba tea. “People can be scared to try our tea because they don’t like tea in general,” she said.

Villanueva explained that with boba tea you get more taste from the fruity or milky flavors you add to black or green tea. Plus, each drink comes with a topping, either popping boba that burst in your mouth with flavor or the chewy, honey-flavored boba.

When COVID-19 caused shut down, Villanueva was in for a surprise. “When the pandemic hit, it made us scared thinking we’re probably going to have to shut down…but the pandemic actually helped us grow.”

While other restaurants and retail establishments closed for the shut down, the health department allowed Cup O’Joy to stay open by providing curbside and to-go orders.

“Social media was everything. Everyone was looking for places where they could grab and go. People started sharing our social media posts and our business actually went up instead of down,” said Villanueva.

She and Cris, who was laid off from his manufacturing job in April, and one other employee worked during the shut down.

Villanueva recalled how the business became their singular resource. “This was all we had. This was our income for both of us. We worked hard.”

Although she had a strong work ethic as a young adult, it wasn’t until after high school that Villanueva realized she would face more hurdles than her peers to achieve her dreams. She was an undocumented immigrant from Mexico.

“I didn’t have a status here; I wasn’t legal.” she said, “I really couldn’t do anything because I didn’t have a Social Security number or a driver’s license. I got discouraged and took a break from school for a year.” 

It was reflecting on her parents that motivated Villanueva. “I realized that our parents who brought us here made it, and they don’t have anything. If they did it, why can’t I do it? They have four kids here, a place to live, and have given us everything we have. I know the language, and they didn’t even speak English.”

Villanueva’s dad is from Guadalajara, her mom is from Mexico City, and she was born in Tijuana. 

When the opportunity to apply for DACA came along when Villanueva was 19, it gave her hope that soon, she would have everything she would need to get a job. She began working at an insurance office, the Boys and Girls Club and at an eyeglasses store while earning an Associate’s degree in Education as a full-time student at Tyler Junior College. “Those were my three jobs, and I loved working,” she said.

“My advice is to work hard and be disciplined,” she said. “I’m also grateful that my fiancé saw the same vision as me, and he supported my idea.”

Housing three Latina-owned businesses in Bergfeld Center is a first for the shopping center.

Opened in 1948, Bergfeld Center is one of the first and oldest shopping centers in the state. It’s located south of downtown Tyler just past Bergfeld Park and the Azalea District. Businesses in the center line Seventh, Eighth and Ninth streets from Broadway Ave. to Donnybrook Ave.

“It’s where the nicest shops were,” said Brad Bergfeld, manager of Bergfeld Center for Bergfeld Realty and President of Bergfeld Agency LLC. Of the shopping center’s opening, Bergfeld said, “It was an experience for people in East Texas. They didn’t have to go to Dallas.”

Now, several decades later, Bergfeld Center still maintains its reputation for upscale shopping, unique stores and a family-friendly feel. Bergfeld notes though that the retail environment has been changing for years, and he fears that the COVID-19 pandemic was a catalyst to further force the move from shopping in person to shopping online.

“People don’t want to go into stores anymore so you’ve got to have a niche — something that can’t be replicated online,” Bergfeld said.

At Bergfeld Center, with traditional retail on the decline locally and nationwide, the shopping center has adapted. Vacancies are filled with more service-oriented businesses such as Normal Chiropractic, The Parlor Salon and Spa and The Centre, a boutique-style fitness and yoga center.

“All our businesses depend on people to come in the door, so it’s been a tough year for them,” Bergfeld said.

Three of the original 1948 tenants remain: Brookshires, The Village Bakery and Bergfeld Agency.

Back in the 1940s, Tyler was a much smaller town and Broadway Ave. used to end at Rose Hill Cemetery. As more people owned cars, developments outside of walking distance from downtown could be successful.

Bergfeld says the difference between businesses that thrive at his shopping center usually depends on the passion for the business and the personal time invested by the owner “The good thing about these three tenants is that they are there all day, they are a part of their shop, they’re invested in it,” Bergfeld said. 

In a parting shot, entrepreneurs Anabel Magallanes, Blanca Villanueva and Jessica Mpiana pose outside of Bergfeld Center, home of their small businesses.

Bergfeld said the new tenants are continuing traditions he is proud of. “To be able to get Mita or Cup O’Joy, I’m always excited when I see that we are able to get somebody like that in here because we can still keep our history of having local businesses here that are proud to be in the community,” Bergfeld said.

Bergfeld Center, like many shopping centers in Tyler, has constantly adapted to trends in retail shopping. In the 1980s, some Bergfeld Center tenants moved to the mall when it opened. In the past several years as retail development has moved to the edges of south Tyler, some Bergfeld Center tenants have moved south as well.

“It’s human nature to want to be where the newest, most exciting thing is,” Bergfeld said, “Some have done fine moving away and some don’t make it.”

Bergfeld Center took the downtime during the start of the pandemic to remodel one of their larger storefronts and convert it into two 900 square foot stores. The change led to quick leasing by Unique Brow Design and Mita Artisan Shoppe. Smaller stores keep the overhead utility and rent costs lower and many stores today don’t require as much operating space.

There are currently two vacancies at the historic shopping center. “In a perfect vision of what I  have for Bergfeld Center, I still envision some cool local coffee shops and restaurants with a quaint, cozy atmosphere…and some shops that really have character.”

Sarah A. Miller is an independent editorial photographer and journalist with over 10 years of experience in newsrooms across the country. She lives in Tyler with several roommates and three quirky cats. Sarah loves being a community storyteller and getting to document the everyday lives of people in East Texas.

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