The store has become like a second home for Vanessa Vaca.
From behind the cash register counter, her 5-year-old son Cristian emerges clutching his Ironman action figure, his soft-spoken questions breaking through Vaca’s concentration.
Cristian is home sick from school that day and wants to watch a different movie.
After an obligatory brief apology, Vaca switches gears from businesswoman to mother in a single breath. The family dog Chula attentively follows her around the store as Vaca answers the store’s phone and her son’s requests.
San Sebastian Rustic, the furniture and home accessory store she opened nearly five years ago with her father, is another one of her babies, Vaca explains.
“I don’t think I’ve conquered the balance yet; it’s a daily struggle,” she says. “If I close early I feel guilty because the store should be open. But I realize you can’t turn back the time.”
As she raises three young children as a single mother, it is not unusual for Vaca to blend her business environment and her family life. The 33-year-old has an affinity for the creative arts and is as likely to stay late after closing hours to finish painting a piece as she is to close the doors early to make it to a school assembly.
Her children, 7-year-old Isabella, 6-year-old Giselle and Cristian, add vitality to the store, Vaca says with a laugh.
“It’s bittersweet sometimes. I have colorful stuff they can break. Sometimes they get tired of being here. Sometimes they want to come. They have their own adventures outside in the dirt,” Vaca says. “I’d rather they be here with me.”
Over time, her children have taken on San Sebastian in their own way. Her children have been known to pass out postcards to customers as they walk in the door or greet them with a smile.
With the workshops she’s taught in store, her children learn more about their Mexican heritage and the meanings behind decorative and cultural items that are sold.
“I think it’s helped bring them closer. It’s helped their maturity level. They know how important it is to be on time and to behave. It’s a different type of school. Hopefully the store will be around, and they can say they grew up with it,” Vaca adds.
But when the first store opened, it was a challenging experience for the young mother who was recently divorced and moving from a bustling metropolitan area to the quieter area of Imperial Valley.
From her background in graphic design and visual communications, opening San Sebastian Rustic in Brawley was drastic change from her life in Los Angeles where she grew up.
The proposal to open the store came from Vaca’s father Pedro Vaca after she had spent two hours in LA rush-hour traffic on a Friday night.
“I wouldn’t go back,” she says with a laugh. “It is a more appealing lifestyle out here.”
Father and daughter worked together as a team to open the store, and now Vaca is primarily responsible for the management, though the two still work in tandem.
“He’s the owner, and I’m the boss,” Vaca says with a smile.
The store began as a custom wrought iron furniture business, and the location prompted her father to start buying furniture to expand the business. With the initial focus on larger pieces, Vaca says the store put her on a quick learning curve. Despite the struggling economy, she has been able to refocus the effort not only on larger custom pieces but also on affordable accessories that fit the Valley’s demand.