July 26, 2012

Paradise Gabii’s

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“Hearing people gasp as they come in the door is what makes my day,” said Graciela Garcia. Not surprising since Gabii’s merchandise not only sparkles, but it is beautifully displayed, and it is original.

Even though Gabii’s is a family business –the 25,000 sq. ft. store is owned by Graciela and her three sons: Fernando, Octavio and Ruben — it is Graciela and Fernando who are responsible for the entire operation.

Gabii’s history began in the late 1950’s with the opening of the first store in Matamoros, Mexico. This first venture lasted a couple of years. Later, in 1970 a new Gabii’s flourished in Reynosa, Mexico, acquiring recognition among locals and international shoppers. In 1995, Graciela considered a new option and opened a women’s boutique in McAllen, Texas. Not quite comfortable with this new business model, the family decided to go back to the basics. “Let’s stick to what we know,” Fernando recalls telling his family. And Fernando does know Mexican folk art well, hence the reason for Gabii’s top quality merchandise.

“I grew up surrounded by all this, my grandfather was my hero, I looked up to him” said Fernando Garcia. Don David Castaneda, Graciela’s father, inspired his grandson to always reach for higher goals, to never settle for less, and to be fair to everybody. Don David was a very successful merchant who did not extend special privileges to his family members, “anytime my mother worked for him, she was treated like one of the staff,” said Fernando. “My grandfather had a win- win mentality; he was also an honest and shrewd businessman.”
In 2002, businesses were booming in Nuevo Progreso, Mexico; 1.8 million visitors were walking the streets of this border Mexican town. Then why open a store on the United States side? Fernando said his mother, himself and his two brothers knew they needed to team up in order to compete with the enormous curio shops on the Mexican side. “We conducted a market study where all the variables were considered; construction, traffic, overhead, everything was reviewed. After looking at all this, we decided to open our new Gabii’s store in the United States.” One of the main reasons for their decision was property values. “At that time, a 5,000 sq. ft. property on the main street of Nuevo Progreso, Mexico, was worth $9 million dollars. Real estate there was known to be higher than even in Manhattan,” said Fernando.
In 2003, after investing $1.5 million dollars, and reconnecting with master artisans from all over Mexico, Gabii’s opened its doors in Progreso, Texas. Their motto is to exceed all customer expectations, to listen to their needs, and know what they like. In their December, 2008 issue, Texas Highways magazine designated Gabii’s as a must-stop for mid-valley shopping. Very deserving, for Gabii’s is the largest Mexican folk art shop in the Rio Grande Valley selling a whopping 75 tons of pottery each year. Mexico has several modern masters according to Mexico’s National Bank, BANAMEX, and Gabii’s is the only place in South Texas where people can find their art work. Today, Gabii’s has evolved into an international shopper’s paradise. Graciela and Fernando have introduced beautiful jewelry, clothing and unique products from Indonesia, Russia, India, Thailand, and Italy. A beautiful collection of Tibetan hand-crafted jewelry and handbags is also available. Most of the apparel is for women, but Gabii’s has a good selection of traditional Mexican Guayaberas for men. Best of all, Gabii’s has a very lenient return policy.
Circumstances in Mexico have changed since 2003 affecting sales and visitor numbers. Yet, Gabii’s continues its course thanks to their loyal local clientele. In addition, winter Texans help increase sales, as do summer visitors from all over the state. Gabii’s sales are 17% higher than last year, but still lower than in the early days. Fernando learned from his grandfather that even in hard economic conditions people will buy high quality products. “Our customers seldom leave without paying us a compliment; some days, we have no sales but plenty of praises,” both said jokingly. They smile because they know people will keep coming back. “We may not be the cheapest, but we are certainly the best,” Graciela affirmed.

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About the Author

Nydia O
A bird does not sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.-Maya Angelou. La Vida Valle is where I write about "la vida" my life in the Rio Grande Valley. From this bi-cultural corner on the tip of Texas, I share my poems and my spiritual and travel experiences. I also blog about the arts, nature and my passion for historic preservation and architecture. But most importantly, let's talk about "la vida" - living our lives - in a vacation state of mind. Contributions and comments are always welcome .


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