When Margarita De La Rosa began planning daughter Sophia’s quinceañera, her one goal was to make it special. 

“For my family, a quinceañera is about celebrating the transformation of a young girl into a lady,” De La Rosa said. “I just wanted her to have a moment she could go back on, that had meaning.”

During the initial planning stages of Sophia’s quince, De La Rosa said she “didn’t know where to go at first.” 

“By the time she said, ‘Mommy, I think I do want to do something to celebrate,’ there were only six weeks left before she turned 15.”

West Plaza, a colorful strip mall in Northwest San Antonio, is seemingly made for the moment when you need to plan a quinceañera – and do so efficiently. 

The string of stores on the 3600 block of West Avenue serves as a one-stop shop for families gearing up to host a quince, from purchasing the cake to securing a photographer.

Storefronts in West Plaza.

Galdina’s Dresses, a family-owned specialty dress shop on the corner of the strip, focuses on outfitting young girls celebrating their quinceañeras and their escorts. It often serves as the starting point for festivities planning.  

“My sister had a very big and traditional quinceañera in McAllen, where we grew up, so I know how glamorous they can be. But Sophie is very shy, and she told me she didn’t want something big,” De La Rosa said. “Still, the amount of preparation that goes into getting ready, from picking her dress to renting the tables and umbrellas and tents and getting the food – it’s a lot of work.”

The hundreds of dresses covered in rhinestones and sequins hanging throughout Galdina’s Dresses are a telling sign that quinceañera celebrations have come a long way since their roots in ancient Aztec traditions. But at the heart of the festivities remains a rite of passage: On her 15th birthday, a young girl transitions into her first stages of womanhood.

Anna Flores can be found at Galdina’s most weekdays, measuring pant lengths and helping parents find the “perfect dresses” that their daughters send photos of via text message.

She said her mother opened the dress shop 11 years ago because “she’s just a really good business person” and, after planning and implementing quinceañeras for each of her five daughters, she wanted to help others better navigate through the often-stressful task of finding the perfect dress for the day.

Quinceañera dresses line the racks of Galdina’s Dresses.

The shop offers bridal, prom, and quinceañera dresses from the U.S. and Mexico, including a variety of rose gold colors and Charro style garments, which Flores says are the most popular. Mexican-western themed Charro dresses,  considered most traditional, express pride in Mexican culture.

The price range for the dresses is anywhere from $120 for shorter, less-elaborate dresses, to $1500 for the more extravagant Charro dresses, which are made of thicker, more expensive materials.

Galdina’s Dresses also offers suit and tuxedo rentals for quinceañera escorts and offers in-house alterations for all of their garments. “We have really good customer service, which is one of the big reasons we have so many” people visiting the shop, Flores said.

The quality of the customer service at Galdina’s Dresses is something also touted by its closest neighbor, JC Invitations, which has been operating next door to the garment shop for nearly six years.  

“Galdina’s is very well-known, so they have a very good reputation. So we often refer their store to customers who call or stop in,” and they do the same for us, said JC Invitation’s owner Juan Carlos Delgado, whose custom invitations also reflect the popular rose gold themes and have touches of glitz including silk bows and gemstones.

“I will say about eight to nine invitations per month I make for quinceañeras,” and those people often go from here next door to check on their dress or to continue shopping and planning, Delgado said.

Directly next door to JC Invitations is Sweet Spot Cakes and Candies, where people can order a custom cake to reflect the theme of the celebration.

The window display of Sweet Spot Cakes And Candies.

Shop owner Ramiro Treviño said the store, which has been open for five years, puts out around eight to ten cakes in a given weekend, the majority of which are for quinceañeras.

Treviño said he, like others in the area, refers business to his neighbors.

“Sometimes [customers] come to this area knowing they can get everything they need” all at once.

Gavin Ruiz, 13, was being fitted for a tuxedo rental for a quinceañera he will be part of on a recent Saturday. While there, he ran into a friend who also was at the shop being fitted one last time before the big day.

Leo Ruiz, Gavin’s father, said they have worked with Galdina’s Dresses on two occasions to fit Gavin for a tuxedo.

Gavin Ruiz, 13, tries on a tuxedo for a quinceañera that he attended on Dec. 7.

“We come from a big circle of friends and all our kids are pretty much the same age. This is his second quinceañera this year. You get asked to be in a quince, the girl’s family picks the place you go, and more often than not you get sent to Galdina’s,” Ruiz said. “For this one on Saturday, we have brought him here maybe three times to make sure everything fits right. They do really good work.”

In addition to the cake, invitation, and dress shop, patrons of the strip mall also can book hair, nail, and makeup appointments at the salon next to Sweet Spot Cakes and Candies, and a photographer whose shop is next to the salon has window lined with portraits of fully made-up young women celebrating their 15th birthday.

“When you have a lot of planning to do, having the convenience of things all being in one area is an [obvious plus],” De La Rosa said. 

Just shy of a mile north of West Plaza is Prestige Reception Hall, a freestanding, family-owned event space that has hosted many quinceañeras since opening in 2011. Three blocks south is another space, the Cinderella Ballroom, which is nestled into a small shopping strip that includes a seafood restaurant and a pet groomer.

Owner Cindy Salazar said the ballroom hosts dozens of quinceañeras per year and that the family-owned business is typically booked most weekends.

“We are in San Antonio, so we are always busy because there is always something to celebrate. And San Antonio loves to throw a party,” Salazar said.

For Sophia’s quinceañera, her mother covered an entire table with different cakes. De La Rosa told the Rivard Report that the celebration helped her see just how grown up her daughter was. 

“Just looking at her, the way she was socializing with our family and friends, I thought, ‘Wow, she has really turned that page. She is not a little girl anymore. She is a young lady now.'”

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.