Editor’s note: This is the first of a recurring series that looks at Tucson’s unique shopping spots.
Walk through the wrought-iron gates of the sprawling, red tile-roofed complex and you’re in another time. Another country, maybe.
Bricks zigzag beneath covered walkways. Tibetan prayer flags strung across the grassy courtyard sway in the breeze. Spandex-clad cyclists sip coffee beneath umbrella-shaded tables.
This is Mercado San Agustin.
The white-washed building, accented with thick wooden pillars and leafy trees, is designed as a public market place with small, locally owned shops and eateries ringing the spacious courtyard. The mercado has only been open since May 2011, but it has the feel of a place that’s been around forever.
With the opening of Blu — A Wine & Cheese Stop and Transit Cycles, which focuses on urban commuter bikes, later this month as well as completion of an event space, the 15,000-square-foot facility will be 100 percent built out, says Kira Dixon-Weinstein, the mercado’s executive director.
“Our model is based on the public market model, which should truly represent the community it’s in,” Dixon-Weinstein says. “We try to have a good diversity.”
A mix of retail and restaurants, Mercado San Agustin has a rentable commercial kitchen, a med spa and eateries ranging from a coffee spot to La Estrella Bakery and Agustin Kitchen, the reincarnation of French-inspired Agustin Brasserie, which is now under the direction of Ryan Clark, the three-time Tucson Iron Chef and winner of the 2012 World Margarita Championship.
“It’s the perfect blending of different worlds, a good cross section,” says Tasha Bundy, co-owner of Mast, an eclectic boutique that recently relocated from the Lost Barrio. “It’s got such a nice high-end feel, but it’s welcoming.”
Mercado San Agustin sits along a popular bike path, so cyclists cap off their rides with a cup o’ joe and an empanada. Later this year, when the streetcar is expected to be up and running, its turnaround point is right at the marketplace.
Jesse Aguiar — who owns San Agustin Trading Company, which specializes in handmade moccasins — saw the mercado’s potential and signed a lease before there was even a building.
“I sort of knew it was going to be the happening place,” he says. “I like the people and I like all the other stores that are coming in.”
And, he adds, there’s plenty of good food. Really good.
“I hate to admit it, but I’ve gained 12 pounds since I moved in here,” Aguiar says with a chuckle. “My New Year’s resolution is to lose it.”
- Blu — A Wine & Cheese Stop, bluarizona.com, opening this month. Blu already has a location inside Alfonso’s Gourmet Olive Oils & Balsamics in St. Philip’s Plaza at River Road and Campbell Avenue. Cheesemonger
- Tana Fryer will offer artisanal cheeses that customers can sample before buying as well as wine, craft beers and locally made goodies like truffles and caramels. “We really focus on American cheeses, so people can understand what’s happening in the artisanal cheese movement and where their food comes from,” Fryer says.
- La Cabaña, 404-9008. This shop is as much gallery as store. Some of the treasures inside — a blend of antiques, Talavera pottery, local artists’ work, even housewares like etched glass from Mexico — come from owner and former art history teacher
- Pamela Tillman’s personal collection. Among the gems: an antique collection of serapes — “wearable art for the wealthy man,” Tillman says — to a $6,000 antique armoire dating back to the Civil War. “I just collect unusual, really exquisite things,” she says.
- Mast, 495-5920, ilovemast.com.
- This airy, light-filled boutique defies a quick, easy description. There’s handmade jewelry like co-owner Sophie Albertsen Gelb’s recycled gold and diamond studs ($210) creatively displayed on a thin geode slice; men’s grooming products by Baxter of California; handmade leather goods; hip jeans from Imogene + Willie; and home accessories like salt blocks ($36 and up) that can be used as cutting boards or servers.
- San Agustin Trading Company, 628-1800, sanagustintradingcompany.com.
- Aguiar has been handmaking moccasins for 45 years. While customers at his retail store might be looking for comfort and fashionable style, they’re not a luxury to the many Native Americans who need them for traditional dances and ceremonies. He keeps a small stock of moccasins on hand, but most people will have their measurements taken for custom footwear in 30 different colors of suede and assorted styles. Moccasins run from $70 to more than $200. You’ll also find cowboy hats and — true to the store’s name — Native American jewelry and pottery that Aguiar has traded moccasins to get.
- Transit Cycles, transitcycles.com
- The 500-square-foot shop, which will open this month, will focus on bikes for transportation and will service them, too.