One of the last of its kind: Tacoma boutique is a one-stop shop for quinceañera parties

Jacquelyn Jimenez Romero, Rosemary Montalvo


Colorful quinceañera dresses line the inside of the small boutique. Glitter is scattered all over the floors. Porcelain dolls and diamond-encrusted crowns sit atop a large shelf.

Wendy Griselda Medina Cartagena, the owner of Anita’s Boutique in Tacoma, sits in a small corner of the store while her 19-year-old daughter Julia Teresa Ramos Medina sits on the floor, hot-gluing decorations to champagne glasses for a “brindis,” or toasting set.

Cartagena owns one of the last quinceañera boutiques in Tacoma, according to Google search and Mapa Latino created by Latinx Unidos. Her shop, named after her eldest daughter, has been open since September 2019.

A quinceañera is a traditional celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday that marks the end of her girlhood and the start of womanhood. The tradition has roots in Mexico but is celebrated all over Latin America. This tradition is similar to a Sweet 16 celebration in the U.S.

Angharad N. Valdivia, chair of the Latina/Latino Studies Department and professor at the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois, said in an interview that, as with all cultural rituals, there is never an agreement on where they began, but they are widely celebrated in many parts of Latin America.

Valdivia said that in the United States, these celebrations assert the community’s presence by letting the broader community know that Latinos exist and are celebrating.

“It becomes a way to assert identity, presence, and visibility, despite efforts or tendencies to erase or silence a population,” Valdivia said.

Valdivia said that quinceñeras are now showing up in mass media. However, when they do appear, they’re often not culturally sensitive and fail to include important rituals and traditions such as the changing of the shoes from flat shoes into high heels to symbolize the transition into adult femininity. At times, they can also appear to be done spontaneously, when in reality, these celebrations take a lot of preparation and labor and are often planned at least a year in advance.

All rituals change over time, said Valdivia. Small changes may include changing the last dance to include reggaeton, merengue, or hip-hop instead of a waltz, while bigger changes include making quinceañeras more inclusive to queer, non-binary, and transgender individuals.

“All of these kinds of inclusivity that are coming to the forefront in recent years also come up in quinceañeras,” Valdivia said.


Anita’s Boutique owner Cartagena immigrated to the United States from El Salvador in 1989 and has lived in Tacoma since 2011 with her six children and her boyfriend.

Medina said her mom’s boutique didn’t always specialize in quinceañeras. Before the COVID-19 pandemic started, they sold regular clothes for men and women. That changed in 2022 after she realized that there was a market for quinceañeras in Tacoma.

Cartagena began preparing for her daughter’s quinceañera in 2018, one year before her daughter’s 15th birthday.

Cartagena recalls making a trip to California with her cousin and her daughter to go to downtown Los Angeles to look for regular clothing for her boutique and decorations for her daughter’s quinceañera.

Though she didn’t need a dress, Cartagena’s daughter still looked around.

Cartagena told The News Tribune she received bad treatment in every store she stepped foot in. The owner of the last store she went into told her it’d be cheaper for her to buy dresses in bulk to get the wholesale price.

“We went to another [store], and we went to another, and it was worse,” Cartagena said. “We were told that at The Callejones, the dresses were very cheap, but oh, Holy God, I regretted it so much.”

She bought six dresses with accessories, including a custom dress for her daughter, out of spite.

“I bought them because the woman made me angry,” Cartagena said.

The dresses sat in Medina’s storage for nearly six months because she did not plan to sell them, let alone start a business catering to quinceañeras.


Cartagena sold her very first quinceañera dress at a yard sale in 2019.

She opened up her boutique soon after.

Anita’s Boutique was only open for three months before it had to close its doors due to the pandemic. Cartagena signed a contract with Prime Storage before COVID shut them down, so she was unable to get out of the lease and had to continue paying rent for the two years that they were shut down.

Cartagena said that she did not receive any financial assistance because she did not qualify for government help. She didn’t meet the requirements of having employees or paying them with checks.

“We did not receive any kind of help, not even for a light bill,” Cartagena said.

Cartagena said she turned to selling masks that she and her daughter made from cloth to keep up with the payments for the space. She also had to ask family and friends to borrow money to keep the boutique open.

The boutique wasn’t reopened until April 2022 when Cartagena began using the space to plan and decorate the centerpieces and other accessories for her daughter’s quinceañera that had been postponed for three years due to unforeseen family emergencies.

Cartagena said that although the store wasn’t officially open when she started using the space to plan her daughter’s quinceañera, people who saw her working there began going over and knocking on the door. That was when she decided to turn her business into a quinceañera business.

She started her quinceañera business with the four remaining quinceañera dresses and accessories she had bought four years earlier.

Cartagena said her boutique looked so big and empty when they first started, so they bought mannequins to display the dresses and to fill up the space to make it more appealing to the customers.

The boutique is now filled to the brim with quinceañera dresses, wedding dresses, baptism apparel, tuxedos, shoes, accessories, and dolls.

Cartagena said she knows they have outgrown their small space on Pacific Avenue but does not want to move to a bigger space because doing so would make her feel ungrateful to the space that started it all for her.

Cartagena told The News Tribune that there used to be more quinceañera boutiques in Tacoma, but believes they went out of business because of the pandemic.

Celebrate WA is an event management company in Tacoma that offers various services such as photography, choreography, and dresses for weddings and quinceañera and is the only other business in the city that caters to quinceañeras besides Anita’s Boutique.


Anita’s boutique is a one-stop shop for everything quinceañera related.

Their itemized list of must-have’s includes a dress, a crown, a hair piece, artificial flower bouquets, heels, gloves, toasting sets, an envelope box, a photo album, a signature book, a teddy bear, a doll, pillow sets, a bible and rosary set, and a saint.

Anything from the dress to the toasting set to the envelope box can be customized to the customer’s exact specifications.

Cartagena and her daughter work 8-10 hour days at the boutique, doing fittings and customizing or personalizing accessories for their clients. In addition to working in the boutique, they offer venue decorating services and hair and makeup services. Cartagena’s boyfriend is also a party DJ.

The boutique’s clientele has exponentially grown over the past year, and they attribute that to their earlier clients telling other people about her business. The mother-daughter duo works up to 15 quinceañeras per month.

Cartagena told The News Tribune that she feels that her boutique is different from the others because she likes to treat people who come into her store as if they were family, and she doesn’t turn anyone away.

Cartengena said she and her daughter recently created a last-minute customized toasting set for a customer within 24 hours.

“If something exists or has ever existed, we are going to do it, and if it no longer exists, we will bring it back,” Cartagena said. “I feel there is nothing that is impossible for us at this store.”

Anita’s Boutique is at 10406 Pacific Ave S, and open daily from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Appointments can be made by calling 253-754-5331.

Cover Photo:

Wendy Medina (right) and her daughter, Julia Ramos, at their Anita’s Boutique quincenera and celebrations store in Tacoma, Washington, on Monday, Aug. 14, 2023.  Photographer: Tony Overman /

Publisher’s Notes: This article was produced in collaboration with the The News Tribune.