When I step foot onto the block of Mission between 21st and 22nd streets, I feel a sense of home, because I see many of the places I would frequent during the first 15 years of my life – from 1980 to 1995. Back then, my grandmother Graciela Gonzalez, managed Panamericana Travel Systems, a business owned by a family friend. I’m now 35 and many of the places once on the block have been replaced, but when I walk by now, I remember the sights, sounds, flavors, and essence of La Mission.
Avalon Shop, 3190 21st St., now Calacas Prints. OK this is technically on the preceding block, but I loved this store so much I had to mention it. Here is where I would go to have the coolest chola moments (what was allowed). This meant buying all of my Art Laboe’s Dedicated to You tapes, getting iron-on old English letters for scarves, buying jewelry, Colombia key chains, and perusing the thousands of things that managed to fit in such a tiny establishment. The elderly couple who ran the store were hip to the game, carrying copies of Mi Vida Loca magazine and reading the book Cholo Style. Thankfully, Calacas Prints, a screen printing shop, seems just as cool.
Panamericana Travel Systems, 2515 Mission St. This is the place that is the most special to me. My family worked here, and I would hang out and read all the random travel brochures and sneak in sugar cubes in the break room. People would show up to the agency to ask for my grandmother’s help, since she was so generous, and this is also the place where she once yelled at armed robbers trying to hold her up. She told them to get her water because she had a heart condition. It’s bizarre that a travel agency with the same name and same exact phone number opened up on the same block at 2533 Mission St., but the OG agency will always be at 2515. Standing at 2515 Mission Street today is a dentist (The Smile Center), as well as a pretty cool Peruvian store called Qosqo Maky. I still like to go in there to remember what once was.
Evergreen Market, 2539 Mission St. I am so happy this place is still open after all these years (it opened in 1988). It is a symbol of Latinos in the Mission, of our food, and our love of cooking. My mom would buy groceries here, and this is the place to get a Colombiana or Inca Kola soda, as well as the best Peruvian alfajores (dulce de leche cookies). Fresh produce abounds, as well as meat, piñatas, and anything you would want to eat from the motherland.
Miz Brown’s, 2548 Mission St. If you wanted a fantastic American breakfast in the heart of the Mission, this was the place to go. I had no idea there were other Miz Brown’s in the city – this was the only one that existed to me. We would eat here early Saturday morning before Panamericana opened, and I would color the placemat for kids, and go to the machine where Dino would yell “Yabba Dabba Do” and give you an egg toy.
For some reason, Miz Browns closed, to be replaced with another Mexican restaurant (love them, but the Mission was saturated with Mexican restaurants), then the huge space was split up, becoming a string of nightclubs/bars (12 Galaxies, The Blue Macaw). Today, French restaurant and club Balançoire sits in the space, while construction happens next door.
Lipstick Salon Beauty Supply, 2573 Mission St. I was the happiest preteen ever looking through all the makeup, hair dye, and more at this beauty shop. Open since 1988, it stands small yet proud between what was Miz Brown’s and King Fashions. The owner, Shula Ben-Simon, who has always sported a bright red bob, is the real star of this show. She’s sassy, opinionated, and has the best accent ever. You can get your hair cut on the cheap, your nails done or stock up on beauty supplies at this Mission Street mainstay.