Quinceañeras pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Yakima Valley economy every year. They help keep local dress stores, party venues, caterers, limo companies, photographers and DJs in business. Yakima photographer Braulio Herrera says "I've seen quinceañeras that cost $25,000, and some with 500 people. They can be more elaborate than weddings."
The dress is a huge part of the event, and some girls decide on the style they want years before the ceremony. Most have voluminous ruffled skirts and a tight bodice glittering with rhinestones or beading. Fashion Corner in Sunnyside is the quinceañera headquarters of the Yakima Valley. It's been in business 28 years, and is overflowing with dresses in every color of the rainbow, which can cost up to $1,100.
Manager Rose Calva says "It's the biggest store in the state. People come here from Bellingham, Seattle, Wenatchee, even Oregon and Idaho to shop." She estimates 40 percent of Hispanic families in the Valley hold quinceañeras, and says they're getting more popular. "I'd say this past year, they've increased by 10 percent."
Like a wedding, it's such a special day it must be preserved in pictures. Photographer Herrera says "For every 10 couples I get asking for information, at least seven or eight of them are for quinceañeras. It's incredible to see how much money they spend."
He says some parents start planning when they find out they're pregnant with a girl. Some even start savings accounts. But it's rare for parents to foot the bill for the whole thing. Hispanic children often have numerous padrinos or godfathers, and they and the rest of the family are called upon to help. "For cake, they'll ask two or three people, for the dress just one, for the band, six or seven people. For the venues they'll ask about 10 people." He says the tradition is growing so fast there's not enough photographers, mariachi bands, and limos to go around.
Aladin Limousine Service Owner Steve Zien just bought a new 14-passenger party bus, on top of his 23-seat white Ford Excursion and a 14-seat black Chevrolet Suburban. "The girls like the black one," he says, "because they can see their dress in the reflection." It's polished to a mirror sheen. He says he bought the new bus because of quinceañeras. "It's two-thirds of my business. It's my niche. It's a huge impact, they spend lots of money."
Zien has five part-time employees, most of whom drive school buses as their other job. He says most every weekend both of his limos are out doing quinces. He says his favorite thing is the beautiful dresses, and adds that the kids are well-behaved and respectful. He works closely with other businesses serving quinces, and has a wall of business cards in his office - those of salons, photographers, caterers and banks - just one more sign of how big the quinceañera business is in the Yakima Valley - and its importance to everyone it employs and serves.