Growing up, Aurora Lopez always knew she had the savvy of an entrepreneur but the spirit of an artist. When she opened her first retail store, Mirador, in New York’s historic Greenwich Village this past November, she wasn’t content to run a dime-a-dozen shop; she wanted to create a space that pushed the boundaries of a traditional clothing boutique. Already, Aurora has curated a collection of thoughtfully-selected menswear and womenswear, art, stationery, literature, and textiles from her native Guatemala, but she has big plans for Mirador’s future: offering adventure trips to Central America and providing microloans for Guatemalans living in New York.
We sat down to catch up with Aurora at Mirador to find out a little more about the shop’s colorful past (it used to be a speakeasy!) and her vision for the future.
What does Mirador mean?
It means “vantage point” in Spanish. I think it’s fitting because of what I’m trying to do, to create a retail space with a distinctive point of view that features all kinds of different products but has a unified underlying theme.
El Mirador is also the name of a hidden stretch of Mayan ruins in the Guatemalan jungle that’s only recently been unearthed. I wanted the name to have that connection to my homeland Guatemala. Everything I do is for Guatemala, and the name had to be close to my heart.
How else do you keep that Guatemalan thread running through the store?
Well, we offer all of our customers Zacapa rum to start. We sell tote bags made from huipiles, garments worn by indigenous women in Guatemala—no two are alike! We definitely want to support more Guatemalan artists at the store, but something I also have in the works is starting a microloan program for Guatemalans living in New York. During the construction phase of the store, I met a lot of Guatemalans working in the construction sector, and I got the idea from the conversations I had with them. It’s something I would love to incorporate.
So how did you snag such an amazing space in New York as a first-time retailer?
This store used to be a laundromat and the laundromat burned down. I just happened to be walking by on the first day they put up the sign advertising a space for rent. So I called the number and when the landlord picked up and told him my name, he said, “Wait, Aurora? Aurora Lopez?” It turned out that the landlord for this building was also the landlord of my apartment building! Knowing him was pretty much the only reason I got an interview for this space in the first place. That’s how I know it was meant to be.
What was the most unexpected challenge you faced in opening your first business?
Construction! It was a huge pain. The building is actually a historic landmark, and there are so many rules in New York surrounding landmarked buildings that it makes the permit process very difficult. Construction itself, including rebuilding after a fire, took two months. Obtaining all the necessary permits took three.
But this space has great history! It was a prohibition-era speakeasy at one point and we actually still have a cabaret license that came with the lease, so we can throw legal dance parties if we want to. I’m all about a good dance party.
When did you decide you wanted to open your own business?
Forever ago. I’ve always wanted to. My dad is an entrepreneur so I had him as an example. I went to school for economics and photography and after I graduated, I helped my dad start a financial service business in Guatemala. I moved to New York soon after that.
Why a boutique?
I started collecting photography and at first I thought I wanted to open a gallery. But then I started working on a business plan and realized I didn’t have the contacts or the resources to run an art gallery. So I decided to work on something more manageable, like an accessories store. Early on in the research process, I went to a trade show and saw these amazing Rocky Mountain Featherbed vests made by a Japanese company and fell in love with them and placed an order for them on the spot. Suddenly I had a clothing store! But I found a way to weave in art and literature and all the things I love.
Art in a retail store—it’s a great idea, but how is it different from an art gallery?
I think there’s a huge opportunity to educate people about art in a non-gallery setting. Going to a gallery can be really intimidating, and selling art in a retail setting makes people much more comfortable with asking questions about a piece or interacting with it without feeling pressured to throw down money. Sometimes you feel like you can’t even walk into a gallery without spending money, but in a retail store, you feel free to browse and chat about the art.
What’s next for you and Mirador?
I just got back from a trip to Iceland to see the Northern Lights, my namesake! It was amazing. And the whole Mirador team is going to Guatemala for New Year’s Eve.
One of my best friends is actually an explorer, which sounds crazy, but she’s actually the first Central American to climb Mount Everest. We’re partnering with her to develop trips to Guatemala to El Mirador itself. We hope to start running trips to Guatemala in January.
Photos by Elizabeth Crawford