In the early l970s, native Arizonan John Kopplin, now co-owner of Maya Palace Boutique, joined the Peace Corps and was sent to the northwest province of Guanacaste in Costa Rica. His knowledge of Spanish helped him to quickly establish connections with the locals.
One day John decided to look around the nearby town of Santa Cruz and check out a clothing store. Susana (Susy) Baltodano, manager of the store, showed John a pair of jeans. His attraction for Susy was instantaneous.
As he remembered, “I didn’t really need the jeans but to impress Susy, I bought them anyway.”
And that’s the start to how the purchase of a single pair of jeans led to the two Maya Palace Boutiques in Tucson.
To see how this all came about, we need to travel back in time to Costa Rica. Within a year of meeting John, Susy had opened her own clothing boutique, Novedades Susy (Susy’s Novelties) in Santa Cruz. John was living and working about 30 kilometers northwest of Santa Cruz in the town of Cartagena.
The two fell in love and decided to marry. They wed in an l8th century colonial-style cathedral near Santa Cruz. Susy, who loved design and was talented with a needle, created her own wedding dress.
As John remembered, “Susy was radiant in her handmade gown, which I didn’t see until the day of the wedding.”
John’s Peace Corps service was extended for a year. The newlyweds moved to the city of Cartago, where John worked at the Ministry of Agriculture. Susy delegated management of her shop in Santa Cruz to one of her sisters, but traveled back and forth between Cartago and Santa Cruz to keep an eye on things.
At the end of John’s Peace Corps service, the two had an important decision to make. Where would they live? John convinced Susy to help him purchase a Volkswagen minibus; the two then took a five-week circuitous trip through Central America and Mexico, settling in Tucson.
During this trip, they bought many unique pieces of clothing, jewelry and gift items. This inventory became the basis of Aztlan-Maya Imports, which they opened here in l974.
On Nov. 14, l978, a new chapter in the story began with the opening of the first Maya Palace women’s boutique in what is now Santa Fe Square. The name was chosen from the many items bought from the Mayan lands of Mexico and Central America.
Maya Palace, which sold both wholesale and retail, was a success from the beginning. The next year, John and Susy moved the store to larger quarters at El Mercado shopping center, 6332 E. Broadway, where it remains a fixture to this day.
After the arrival of their two children, Justin and Stephanie, the couple decided to turn Maya Palace into a strictly retail establishment.
Another Maya Palace was opened in Plaza Palomino in 1980, which the couple closed 23 years later, so they could concentrate on the opening of the newest Maya Palace, 7057 N. Oracle Road in Casas Adobes Plaza, serving our Northwest side.
Diversity encapsulates John and Susy’s vision of their boutique: colorful clothing items, an extensive jewelry collection, gift items and even an entire section of formal wear that includes bridal, prom and ball gowns comprise inventory from around the world.
The store’s staff also reflects this diversity, hailing from such countries as Greece, Iran, Israel, Denmark, the Philippines and Germany, as well as the United States.
“Sometimes it seems as if we have a mini United Nations within each store,” Susy reflected.
Diversity is also their key to retail success during these tougher economic times. The bridal and special occasion areas of the business have expanded even with the slowdown. As John explained, “Getting married never goes out of style.”
Although the customer base is primarily local, many visitors to the shops come from Europe and northern Mexico, as well as cities from all over the U.S.
Adding to the festivities, John and Susy celebrated Maya Palace’s 33rd anniversary with an open house Nov. l0 in the Casas Adobes Plaza.
Guests admired the new couture lines as well as the fused glass and gem creations by local artist Adriana. They also sampled a variety of goodies from merchants in the Plaza.
In addition, the Mariachi Estrellas de la Fuente ensemble serenaded everyone in the courtyard with their take on well-known numbers with a Mexican flavor.
Barbara Russek welcomes comments at Babette2@comcast.net.