Beating COVID

Photos and Story by

Mark Graven

Staff Reporter

Rodriguez Holding a COVID piñata

The most popular item at Casa de Piñatas this holiday season is a piñata in the shape of a Covid-19 virus, according to Francisco Rodriguez, the owner of the store, located just a few blocks from the CNM Main Campus.
Folks apparently enjoy beating the virus with a stick, said Rodriquez, a 1980 graduate of Albuquerque High School, who has been in business at 2221 Lead Avenue, Southeast, since the turn of century.  But now the very existence of his piñata and party supply business is threatened by Covid, said  Rodriguez.
“This is scary,” said Rodriguez, in a recent interview at his store.  “And I don’t know how long it is going to last.”
Sales, he said, are down more than 75 percent, to a mere trickle.  He was closed entirely from March to May, and had to throw out 12 cases of candy that had become out-of-date.  

Candy at Casa de Piñatas

He is thankful for one “angel” of a customer who noticed a small model of a Covid virus in his shop, who asked if he could make it into a big piñata.  He could, and he did.  Then his angel tipped off her friends. And they all came in and bought piñatas which come in small, medium, and large sizes.  You can have a face put on them, so you can bash the virus right in the teeth, if you want.
Rodriguez will also provide you with a colorfully decorated bat to get the job done.
Rodriguez makes his piñatas, at a work bench in his shop,  with newspaper, a paste of flour and water, and colorful tissue paper.  He does not use wire, like some piñata makers. 
The biggest piñata, he has ever made was a nine-foot tall “Shrek.” He does custom orders.  One of the most unusual was of a ’64 Chevrolet Impala automobile.  One customer ordered a Darth Vader piñata,  to celebrate a divorce from his wife, whom the customer considered to have a personality similar to his ex.
Rodriquez says the basic problem, for his piñata business, is that people are not gathering to party.  It is parties–not the holidays, that drive demand for piñatas, he noted.   

Outside of Casa de Piñatas

Another factor in the decline of business is a lack of foot traffic on his street.  A martial arts studio and a barbershop on his block have already closed for good.  Duggan’s Coffee Shop, next door to him, has limited itself to morning hours.
Rodriquez himself comes in later and goes home earlier.  And he no longer hangs his piñatas outside, like he used to, because he did have some piñatas stolen, which he attributes to the lack of people on the street, and the desperation of the times generally.
Still, Rodriquez perseveres, in a craft that was taught to him by his father, Alberto Rodriguez, in Juarez, Mexico.  His wife, Patricia, who helped him with the business, has passed on.  His two sons have grown, and gone their own way.   
But for Rodriguez  there is a tradition and a way of life to uphold.  Oh, yeah, and I enjoy it,” he said.

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