Conversation by: Kylie Cooper Photos by: Lillian Reitz
Pilar has been open for just about 44 years – with you at the helm for the last 31 – and has undoubtedly become a local shopping staple. How have you seen the shop evolve over the years?
Besides radical changes in hairstyles and fashion, Pilar’s evolution has been subtle. Our core principle is to bring beautiful, intriguing, and unique items from around the world to our customers – and to do so with personal, genuine customer service. I won’t deviate from this driving principle, or Pilar wouldn’t be Pilar.
Since I’ve owned the store and because of my passion for the south of the border, however, we now offer much more merchandise from different states in Mexico and Guatemala than before. Pilar has always had a philanthropic underpinning in our buying practices. I most certainly continue this practice but focus more on the empowerment of women. Not only do we carry more work by female artisans, both local and in general, but we now offer more lines structured to directly impact the lives of women, such as providing employment opportunities.
So what does your buying process look like, and how do you know when an item should be sold in your shop?
I try to buy directly as much as possible, which is why I often travel south of the border in order to bring back hand-picked, incredibly beautiful and unique pieces. I hold a deep appreciation and admiration for artisans and their work. But what moves me is the perpetuation of their cultural history and traditions. The items tell their story, stories we share with our customers.
Over the years, Pilar has established enduring relationships with many companies from the United States and around the world. These companies practice fair trade and offer sustainable products – products created with natural dyes, and recyclable and organic materials. My connection to the natural world speaks to many of the buying decisions I make. Given that our store has been an integral part of the community for more than 40 years, we are blessed with exceptionally loyal and multi-generational customers. We consider our customers family. While shopping for the store in general, I always keep my customers close in my mind. If I see an item I know a particular customer would love, I buy it; then, give them a call. We also keep track of customers who are either looking for something particular or want to be notified when a new shipment of certain lines of clothing or jewelry arrives in the store. Whenever I travel, I carry a list of customer requests. For example, a customer may want a table runner from Guatemala in a particular color scheme; I will then do my very best to hunt down that runner.
What are some of those stories you love to share?
When I visited Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca – a village known for its weaving – I watched in awe as a woman created a magnificent fabric on a backstrap, a method used for hundreds of years. One indelible memory is when I met an elderly man with no hands weaving with his feet on the streets of Comalapa, Guatemala. He told me he lost his hands due to an accident when working the fields. His wife taught him how to weave, so he could help support their family.
What do you think Pilar brings to the community that it would lack without its presence?
Pilar is a world in and of itself: Customers don’t just shop at the store, they experience it. Pink flamingos fly from the ceiling among the Noah bells and chimes. Brightly embroidered Otomi and other fabrics grace the walls and tables. Whimsical and religious folk art adorns our shelving units. Quirky items and critters like our lucky, three-legged pigs are sure to bring a smile or a giggle. Jewelry shimmers in eight cases, and racks of beautiful clothing wait to be discovered. We tell our customers they must “look up, down, and all around” because we have treasures everywhere.
I would be remiss if I didn’t emphasize how the world of Pilar is brought to life by a team effort. The women of Pilar work diligently to create a delightful atmosphere. As a team, we provide warm, personal, and at times, entertaining customer service – we love to laugh. I can’t think of any other store in Corpus Christi that embodies all that we do. I can’t imagine our city without Pilar.
What would someone be shocked to know about you?
Before my career in retail, I worked with my father – Bill Shaw – in one of his building companies. Most of my time was spent constructing and installing cabinetry. I became adept with the tabletop saw, cross cut (saw), and plane. Yet my favorite was the lathe. I was also the “finishing gal” and had my own area inside the warehouse where I varnished, stained, or painted the cabinetry. I even hung sheet rock once. Once was enough. I am proud to say I have built products for homes and businesses all around the Coastal Bend.
When you aren’t busy with shop things, how are you spending your time?
As often as possible, I jump on my tractor and spend hours mowing and mowing, and cutting and hauling brush, along with attempting to complete other necessary tasks at our family’s ranch. I become a ranch warrior. But I am not a hunter; I only shoot pictures of birds and the abundant wildlife, including one pesky armadillo who incessantly digs holes throughout the property. I think he does it just to spite me. Being a ranch warrior is hard, physical work, but it is a labor of love and a great stress reliever. Nature refuels and inspires me. I return to the store with a few aching muscles and a clear mind – ready to continue my adventure.
3814 S Alameda St., Corpus Christi, TX | 361.853.7171 | @pilarlifestyles