Araceli and Fernando in front of some salvaged watches. Araceli insisted on the sassy pose. Photo by Joe Rivano Barros.

Thalia’s Jewelry Shop, which was one of our co-tenants at 2588 Mission Street before the building burned in January, is having a hard time telling its old customers about its new location.

“All we want is to get our customers back, to let them know where we are,” said Araceli Espinoza, who runs the shop with her husband Fernando Bueno. “A lot of customers — their parents used to take them [here], so they already knew it was a safe place to go and take their jewelry. And now we lost all of that, you know.”

Espinoza and Bueno originally owned a jewelry store in Oakland with the same name but took over the store at 22nd and Mission in 2012 from Bueno’s family. A brother ran the shop for 25 years and an uncle for another 10 before him, but Espinoza and Bueno say it’s been a jewelry store for 50 years and “passed through generations” who had come to know the family.

Espinoza said their customers used to “come in and talk to us. When they have problems, it’s like they’re going to church,” she laughed. “They feel very comfortable with us.” (During our hour-long interview, four customers from their old location come in to say hi to the pair.)

On the night of the fire, Bueno had closed the shop early and was enjoying dinner at home when his sister called to tell him his building was on fire.

“I go, ‘What!?’” Bueno said. He then drove to the scene and watched as the flames “got closer and closer to our business. And that was very scary.”

But it was the water that caused the most damage. Firefighters battled the blaze from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., the pair said, and water from their hoses drenched everything in the shop. Showcases, jewelry, tools, and, most importantly, customer contacts were all lost to water and rot, something Espinoza and Bueno later discovered.

“They told us we had 10-15 minutes,” Espinoza said of the time the Department of Building Inspection allowed them for property recovery. “We just got black bags, garbage bags –”

“And put it all together from the showcases — swoosh — like that,” Bueno continued, with a sweeping hand motion.

“We felt like we were robbing our own store,” Espinoza laughed.

The second day (the Department of Building Inspections allowed for two 15-minute visits), the pair entered in homemade hazmat suits.

“We had to use helmets because water was still coming in from the roof,” Espinoza said. “And we had to wear masks and gloves and shoes you were not going to bring back to your house because that’s taking that stuff to your family,” she said of the mold that had infected the shop.

The loss of their merchandise and customer contacts was painful, they said, but Bueno said losing his tools was the hardest.

Bueno started: “My tools are like my…”

“Babies,” Espinoza interjected.

“Yeah, because they’re part of my living,” Bueno continued. “I started working when I was 8 years old in the jewelry business. So when I see my tools all rusted, I almost cried because,” he allows himself a laugh, “it’s hard to lose everything.”

The tools have since been replaced, and Espinoza and Bueno took stock of their situation after the fire and set about finding a new storefront, first out in the Sunset then down by Geneva Avenue, before finally finding a place a block away from their old digs.

“We came down Mission looking for a place closer to our business,” Espinoza explained. “But nothing was available. The day before we told the [Geneva Ave. place] ‘Yes,’ we were walking back all sad, thinking if only we had a place over here, and then we saw ‘For lease’ and were like ‘What?’”

The rent is much more and people don’t yet know their store, but the two immediately knew they wanted this place.

“I had to beg,” Espinoza said. “‘Please give us the place, we’re very hardworking people’ I said.”

And they got it, opening on June 1 at 2859 Mission St. Their first week of business was rough (they got a parking ticket on the first day to the tune of $110, which cut into the day’s $159 business haul, and have only had one to two customers a day), but Espinoza says it now feels like they can hope again and “imagine the tomorrow.” (The pair admits that they plan to move back to their old location when it becomes available — another three years at least, they say — but would keep both stores if possible.)

They’re even taking this as an opportunity to do business differently.

“Now I learned to save my customers’ information in the computer, in a place where I won’t lose it,” Espinoza said. “We were like old people, not writing their addresses or emails. We would just take their name and phone number.”

Thalia’s Jewelry is now offering key copying services, gifts, beauty products — Espinoza even has plans for an outdoor flower shop.

They’ve also started a website and a Facebook page, and are throwing a grand re-opening today, June 13, from 12 to 2 p.m., featuring food, drink, store discounts, and “hopefully a lot of noise outside,” Espinoza said.

But the legacy of the fire hasn’t been abandoned.

“I don’t want to be talking about this my whole entire life,” Espinoza said. “But before the grand re-opening, I think it’s very important. I want people to know that we’re one of the ones who lost their business and we need their support.”

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