Hispanic parents finding ways to save on rite of passage for teen girls
By Georgia East |South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Irene Flores has been planning her daughter's quinceañera celebration for years.
The coming-of-age ritual marks a young girl's transition into womanhood and is one of the most revered celebrations in some Hispanic communities.
But with the slumping economy and the average quince costing between $5,000 and $10,000, Flores says paying for her daughter's big day in July is not going to be easy.
Rather than having 14 girls and boys in her court, her daughter will have seven boys. Flores is doing away with professional videotaping services and bargaining with vendors.
"It's going to be a stretch," said Flores, a housekeeper who lives in Lake Worth with her husband and four children.
"At one point I even thought about canceling it."
She's not alone. Hispanic parents across South Florida are combing through their budgets to find ways to keep the quince tradition alive.
Party planners and business owners catering to the quince niche said that while the industry had exploded just a few years ago, even netting the attention of My Super Sweet 16 on MTV, these days families are tightening their belts and cutting way back.
Bakery owners say some parents are now asking to pay for cakes in installments. Some girls, who traditionally have more than a dozen girls and boys in their quince court, are slimming down to just a few.
Rather than have the quince the same month as the girl's birthday, some parents are delaying the celebration to hurricane season, when they can rent a banquet hall for less money.
"People are not spending the same because so many people don't have jobs," said Luis Perez, who owns Mis Quince Fiesta, a full-service boutique in Lake Worth.
Perez and his wife opened the party planning business about four years ago after seeing that the quince market in Palm Beach County was underserved, he said. When he first opened he had to refuse certain decorating jobs because they had so much work.
That's no longer the case.
"We've lowered our prices and added more services because we have the time now," he said.
Noel Brown, an event planner with Medallion Occasions in Fort Lauderdale Is your Fort Lauderdale restaurant clean? - Click Here., said the trend these days is to do more with less. As a result, some are moving away from the elaborate Cinderella-style ball and going chic.
"We're seeing more of the sophisticated South Beach vibe," said Brown, adding that the shift saves clients from having to splurge on linens and fancy favors.
Still, with the growing Hispanic community in South Florida, the quince market is not dead.
The buying power of Hispanics was about $101 billion as of 2008, according to a report by the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia. Florida is among the top three Hispanic markets in the nation.
Affluent Hispanic families continue to splurge on the ceremony.
Angel Diaz, a choreographer and party planner with Angel y Marion Diaz in Miami, said he worked on a party at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables this January where the family easily shelled out about $120,000.
"This is something that will stay alive," said Diaz, who said he's been in the business for 30 years. "People are scaling back, but they're not letting go."
Mimi and Silverio Lantigua of Miramar recently hosted a Romeo-and-Juliet-themed quince for their daughter, Michelle, at a Hialeah banquet hall, with about 175 close family and friends.
In their case the bleak economy helped, they said, because vendors were more willing to negotiate.
"Although the economy is where it is, we plucked at the expenses little by little," Silverio Lantigua said.
That's exactly what Flores and her husband in Lake Worth are planning to do. Their daughter, Liria, already has her pink and fuchsia dress. The mother and daughter team scout for quince bargains.
Liria said the sacrifice her parents are making for this rite of passage is a lesson in itself.
"I see how hard my mom and dad are working to make this happen," she said. "I'm constantly thinking about that."
Georgia East can be reached at geast@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4629.