45 Years and Counting
BY ZEENA SAIFI
Every week for the rest of the year, Our Town will celebrate our 45th anniversary by profiling a neighborhood business that has been around longer than we have. Know of a local business that should be on our list? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Step into Pan American Phoenix on Lexington Avenue and it’s as if you were walking in off the streets of Mexico City.
The colorful shop is filled with artifacts oozing Mexico and neighboring countries. Everything is imported from Latin America. Its racks and shelves are full of indigenous crafts, sterling silver jewelry, embroidered clothing, colorful textiles, Day of the Dead figurines and blown glassware.
It is the oldest such shop in the city, its owner, Mary Bartos, said.
Bartos said her mother, along with some partners, bought a shop called the “Pan American” in 1959. They later bought another shop called the “Phoenix” and merged the two to create Pan American Phoenix.
Bartos said she used to visit Mexico twice a year to take in its culture, its people and its creations. She was a natural fit to join the business, which she did in 1976 after spending eight years working as a teacher.
“I enjoyed teaching very much, but I love Mexico and the culture and the things they produce,” she said. “So I really just fell into it.”
Everything is handmade rather than mass-produced, Bartos said.
“There are a few other shops in New York, but not too many, that carry similar things,” she said. “But I don’t think there’s a similar shop that carries the extensive range of merchandise that we have.”
Bartos said the shop has many loyal customers, many of whom she has known for years. Tourists, too, come to browse. They mostly hear about the shop either from advertisements, magazine articles or, of course, from an Internet search.
Although Bartos stays in contact with her friends and business partners in Mexico, she said she doesn’t travel there as much as she used to.
“The Internet has made it easier to do business with people, which means I don’t have to go as often and that is both a good and bad thing,” she said. “Nothing replaces being in the country and seeing everything for yourself.”
The store has been at its current Lexington Avenue location, near 65th Street, for about 20 years.
“I would say that it is a shop that in many ways hasn’t changed that much, because we’re true to our mission,” Bartos said. “I feel that’s important. There are beautiful things that come from all over the world, and we like to bring to light the Mexican ones.”