The Shop's Business: Mexican and other imports, 1970-1979
Beginning in 1970 the Ragnarokr leather shop developed a connection with a family in southern Mexico. In October 1970 Greg Sperry found Pancho Ohem and Oton Ortez (of Mexico City) standing in Grange Park with their suitcases in hand. They were political refugees from Mexico where they were wanted by the federal police for their involvement in the student movement at the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Their parents had advised them to leave the country for a while and had sent them to Canada. Greg brought the two men to Ragnarokr where they stayed for several weeks in a room in the basement. This began a series of visits from various people from Mexico City and the City of Tapachula in the State of Chiapas that continued for more than five years. The Mexicans came to learn English and to earn money working on tobacco farms in southern Ontario, at menial jobs in Toronto or to attend school. These men included Pancho Ruiz, Guillermo Jaeger, Gustavo and Tono Parlange and Rudolfo Morales, all of Tapachula, and Ricardo Seminario of Peru.
Pancho Ohem and Oton Ortez returned to Mexico City in the spring of 1971. In March 1972 Rudolfo Morales and others from the city of Tapachula, Chiapas arrived to work in the tobacco fields of southern Ontario. They had learned about the friendly people at 33 Baldwin Street from mutual acquaintances in Mexico City. These men stayed until July and then returned home.
In January 1974 Mary and Philip (traveling under the name of George) drove to Mexico and Guatemala on a combination shopping trip and vacation. They purchased huaraches (sandals worn by the Mexican poor) and Panama-style hats and visited friends in Tapachula (including Pancho Ruiz, Gustavo Parlange and Rudolfo Morales) and in Tampico on the Gulf Coast. They also visited the coffee plantation in the mountains above Tapachula (El Gadow) that belonged to Guillermo Jaeger. They returned in March to Toronto with 97 pairs of sandals. The soles of the huaraches were cut from rubber tires and the uppers were woven from leather. The huaraches sold well and complimented the sandals Ragnarokr was already making. The following year Randy, Mary and Philip once again traveled to Mexico and purchased 72 pairs of sandals and 77 Panama-style hats.
In April 1975 Paula DeCuir, Rosa Morales, Francisca Ramos, Rudolfo Morales and his father Daniel Morales arrived from Tapachula via Montreal in Paula’s Renault car. Rudolf and Daniel left for Mexico by bus after a week but the girls stayed and roomed at 33 Baldwin Street. Francisca Ramos left to return to her job in Mexico in July and in November Paula and Rosa returned to Mexico in Paula’s car.
In February 1976 Randy, by now fluent in Spanish, traveled by bus to Mexico where he bought sandals in several cities in central Mexico and shipped them by air to Toronto. He continued south to Guillermo Jaeger’s farm in Chiapas where he caroused with Guillermo in Tuxtla Guiterrez for several weeks. In March he shipped 26 of the hemp bags made in the jail at San Cristobal de las Casas and in April returned to Toronto with a serious case of Moctuzoma’s revenge. The Mexican imports quickly sold out and the leather shop purchased another 40 pair of sandals from Morningstar Trading towards the end of the sandal season. Thereafter huaraches were regularly offered for sale at the leather shop when they could be had.
The leather shop attempted to retail other merchandize that seemed to compliment its own line of manufactured goods. In June 1974 the shop ordered a dozen leather bags from a company in California called the Leather Gypsy. This was a trial purchase and was an attempt to widen the retail appeal of the leather shop. The bags were well made but some of the craftspeople felt that the jobbed goods competed with bags of their own manufacture so the purchase was not repeated. Beginning in 1976 George and Philip cut spruce and fir trees at the Frostpocket and sold them in front of the storefront on Baldwin Street. Madelyn designed a poster advertising the Christmas tree sale and it was posted on Hydro (electric) poles all over the downtown area. The tree sales were repeated each Christmas season until 1979.
The narrative continues at The Shop's Business: Shop personnel come and go, 1969-1978