Generations in the making: Residents say goodbye to National City small business – The San Diego Union-Tribune

Mario’s Family Clothing Center, a family-owned small business in National City, typically has scores of cardboard boxes with new merchandise to unpack. This time, the boxes are being repacked.

After more than 50 years, the shop is closing its doors as the property owners prepare the site for a new business to open within the National City Plaza on Division Street and Euclid Avenue.

“It’s been a little difficult these past days,” said owner Mario DeAnda, son of the late Mario Marquez DeAnda, who founded the family business in 1968. He and his sons have been preparing the store for indefinite closure by early next week.

Mario’s Family Clothing has sold everything from shoes and accessories to school and work uniforms. Part of the site is expected to be transformed into a corridor for a new Planet Fitness scheduled to open in the fall at an adjacent unit, which was formerly the family-owned Wrigley’s Supermarket, said Susan Rounds with the leasing company Red Mountain Retail Group.

Property owners had offered to let DeAnda keep 1,200 of the 1,800-square-foot site or relocate to another location within the shopping center, but DeAnda declined.

“I was trying to expand the store, but after really thinking over it, I decided I’m going to go help my brother out in the other stores, but the people are disappointed,” DeAnda said.

The National City location was the first to open, but Mario’s Family Clothing has two other locations, one in Lemon Grove, which opened about 25 years ago, and one in Santee that has operated since 2008.

The clothing center also had a store in El Cajon, but that was shut down after property owners had other plans for the site, said Michael DeAnda, Mario’s son who has helped operate the family business since he was 14 years old.

Mario DeAnda, owner of Mario's Family Clothing in National City, takes a call as he prepares to close the shop.

Mario DeAnda, owner of Mario’s Family Clothing in National City, takes a call as he prepares to close the shop.

(Brittany Cruz-Fejeran/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“It’s been a real blessing to be here all these years. I grew up playing around in the neighborhood so it’s sad to know that it’ll no longer be here,” Michael said. “This is a business of generations. I was 14 (years old) when I started working and now I’m 31 years old.”

Much like Michael and his siblings, Mario grew up helping his father run the business before inheriting the shop at the age of 23 in the late 1970s.

“I stuck it out at that age but my father never gave up on us. He set the example,” Mario said.

His father opened the clothing center in 1968 after becoming a pioneering vendor at the National City Swap Meet, which began in 1962 and continues to run every weekend on D Avenue.

“From the Swap Meet he built the store up and we’ve been here ever since,” Mario said.

In operating decades after decades, the store’s customers became multi-generational shoppers. Over the past few days, National City residents prepared to say goodbye to one of their hometown’s favorite small businesses. Among them was Patricio Solano Barba, who regularly shops for work clothes and now for his children’s clothes.

Mario DeAnda's sons Marc and Michael pack up clothes for the store's closure.

Mario DeAnda’s sons Marc and Michael pack up clothes for the store’s closure.

(Brittany Cruz-Fejeran/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“I’m pretty upset because I’ve been coming here for years,” he said. “I mainly get all my work clothes here because I’m a landscaper. And that’s what I think hurts the most. My friends and I started our own small business, so I get it. We need small businesses in the community to stay.”

For resident Patty Garcia, the store closure is bittersweet.

“Every time I went, for a gift or socks or anything, (Mario) would talk to you like he knew you for years, like a relative. He would call you ‘mijo’ or ‘mija,’” she said, saying Mario would refer to some customers as “son” or “daughter.” While sad to see the shop go, she added, “I can see both ends. Growth in National City is good. It’s always good bringing in new business but it’s also good to have those who have worked hard to keep their business open.”

As the family prepares to close the center, Mario said he has no plans to retire.

“If it was in God’s will, I would’ve stayed another 10-20 years because I don’t sit down. That’s the Latino way. We don’t give up.” he said.

Mario said he will help run the Lemon Grove location.

For National City, however, “it won’t be the same anymore,” said Barba.