EAST VILLAGE — Alcala's Western Wear founder Luis Alcala, who immigrated to the United States as a cotton picker before launching a business that became a staple on the city's Northwest Side, died this week at age 92.
According to his son Richard Alcala, the elder Alcala opened the family-run clothing store in 1972 at 1733 W. Chicago Ave., leaving his children the neighborhood business where his grandchildren now are learning to run the shop.
The two generations, including Alcala's grandson, David Alcala, were in the store Thursday, running the iconic Chicago Avenue shop as they have for more than 40 years.
Richard, 55, was a student at Wells High School when his father founded Alcala's. His dad had moved to the United States in the 1940s, first working as a cotton picker in Arkansas before moving to Chicago, where later he sold clothes at the Maxwell Street market.
"He was very, very proud of his accomplishments," Alcala said. "He had a few bucks in his hand when he came to Chicago. My father really started at the bottom."
Within a few decades, Alcala was offering an in-house tailoring service at his store, altering pants by hand while his customers shopped. By the time he retired in the 1982, Alcala's was well on its way to expanding to four times its original size, his son said.
Alcala's Western Wear has had "a wonderful relationship" with the community, supporting local events like West Fest and the West Town Art Walk, said Kara Salgado of the West Town Chamber of Commerce, who sent her condolences to the family.
Richard said western wear isn't the niche market that it seems. He compared it to the lost history of black and brown cowboys during Westward expansion: Western wear, he said, cuts across race, age and nationality.
And with a relatively new clientele moving to the area, Alcala said he and his family, at least 10 of whom work at Alcala's, are looking at new avenues of distribution while maintaining the Alcala tradition. They've put more focus on online sales, he said — and they're seeing a surge in the "hipster" market.
They support projects like a new craft brewery planning to open across the street and other developments along Chicago Avenue that remind Richard of the neighborhood's "heyday" — when stores like Goldblatt's were at their peak.
David, whom Richard calls "the future" of Alcala's, recently graduated from Southern Illinois University with a degree in mathematics. The 23-year-old was resistant to the idea of joining the family business at first, but he said he matured, and came back.
Now he's interested in "finance with a fashion influence" at Alcala's Western Wear.
"Being young has something to offer as well," he said, dressed in a black western button-up, topped with a bolo tie. "We're going toward a younger crowd now that the neighborhood is changing."
Both Alcalas recalled Luis Alcala, who died Tuesday, as they arranged boots, shirts and cowboy hats in the store.
"I wouldn't be sitting, telling you all these things if it weren't for my father," Richard said. "He started it all."