Obit of the Day: Founder, Alcala’s Western Wear
Luis Alcala learned how to sell things from his grandfather, who owned one of the first Ford dealerships in Mexico. Growing up in Durango Luis and his brother would each get a bag of oranges from their grandfather and have a competition to see who could sell the most.
In the 1940s, Mr. Alcala emigrated to the United States. He began his life in the U.S. as a cotton picker in Mississippi before moving north to Chicago. He would have assorted odd jobs before he was able to begin selling clothing at the legendary Maxwell Street Market*.
In 1972, he opened his first Alcala’s location on the far South Side of Chicago. The store only lasted two years because when U.S. Steel closed its local plant Mr. Alcala lost his customer base.
He would re-open at 1733 W. Chicago Avenue in 1974, a permanent fixture in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood for the next forty years. When it opened, the store sold inexpensive clothing to those living in the neighborhood, which was a mixture of Ukrainians, Poles, and Mexicans.
In 1980, the success of the John Travolta movie Urban Cowboy, led Alcala’s to designate a small section for western clothing. Sales were strong, and Mr. Alcala’s sons, who now ran the business, asked their father if they could transform the entire store into a western-focused business. He gave his consent as long as they remembered “the blue-collar worker.”
Since then Alcala’s Western Wear has became a west side landmark in Chicago, identifiable from blocks away by the fiberglass palomino rearing up on the from sign.
Luis Alcala, who was the father of eleven children, had 33 grandchlldren, and 31 great-grandchildren, died on January 28, 2014 at the age of 92.
* Maxwell Street Market was located on Chicago’s west side for about 100 years. It was a mile-long, outdoor market where you could buy nearly anything. For more on the market, read the Encyclopedia of Chicago’s entry.
RIP. This place will always be my favorite place to shop.
The glitz and glitter of Memphis’ Beale Street radiates energy like no other, February 1997.Photograph by William Albert Allard, National Geographic