Casa Vieja & Baja: An Interview with Leticia Klein
By: Cara Gourley
Klein in her Shoppes at Palmilla Store - Casa Vieja
Leticia Klein has done a little bit of everything. She's helped open hotels, owned a restaurant with her husband, managed her own store and balanced a family of 5 children.
Having traveled extensively thoughout Mexico, she talks about it with such a passion (especially Baja) that you'll be ready to pack your suitcase and see for yourself. In fact, she's so passioniate about Baja that the tourism board often has her give presentations to travel agents.
Her enthusiasim for travel is also evident in how she stocks her showroom. From handmade Mexican shoes to famous Columbian designers like Amelia Toro, Leticia gives visitors a grand selection of Mexican and Latin American designers.
Purse on display at Casa Vieja
Her goal? Send her clients home with something "different" and promote the designers in the process.
Leticia Klein spends most of her days in her store Casa Vieja, which means "old house," located at the Shoppes at Palmilla in San Jose del Cabo. But she still doesn't let a year go by without traveling.
Here's what she has to say about her store, exploring Baja and the changes she has seen over the years:
What brought you to Los Cabos?
I was in the hotel industry. My husband and I were with Presidente at the time. We came from opening a Presidente in Loreto to the Los Cabos project in the end of 1980. Back then, we followed the rules very strictly - no high rises were allowed and we tried to blend in with the local architechture.
The Presidente Hotel in 1981 Photo/Molly's Cafe
The Presidente has changed hands a few times. How do you feel about that?
A while back, I called my daughter in New York. "Paulina," I said. "It's an all inclusive!"
It's a Holiday Inn now! I can't believe it.
What's the biggest change you've seen from when you first got to Los Cabos?
On Medano Beach, there used to only be a small palapa restaurant that served lobster and beer. Isn't that something?
Today, Medano Beach is full of hotels, restaurants and plenty of tourists.
How did you get from hotels to opening Casa Vieja?
Well, I used to do Sales and PR at the Presidente. Everyone kept asking me "Where can I buy a nice dress?" and "Where is a nice restaurant?"
My husband was in food and beverage. I said, "Honey, you have to open a restaurant for all these people!" We had Daminana, our restaurant in San Jose del Cabo, for 18 years.
I also wanted a nice place where people could shop. So I opened Casa Vieja.
What was the original "Casa Vieja" like?
I opened it in 1983. We found this really old house; it was something like 210 years old. It had these high ceilings with beams. Casa Vieja means "old house."
I started out with a Mexican designer - Josefa. She was being sold in Saks and Nieman Marcus at the time for like 2,000 dollars. I also got another designer - Irene Pulas - who put out a line. Those were wonderful things.
You've traveled extensively throughout the Baja California Sur; where are some of your favorite spots?
Leticia Klein's favorite places to visit in Baja California Sur
As you head north, everything changes so dramatically.
Loreto is one of my favorites. Especially because of the way it's been kept; it hasn't really taken off tourism wise. I hope it stays that way although there now have flights to Loreto from Los Cabos. Loreto has great fishing.
Santa Rosalina. There's a lot of mining - copper and cobalt. It's thriving!
When you head along the Pacific, I love Guerrero Negro. The salt mine is amazing and the Jack Rabbit Lagoon (also known as Scammon's) is THE place for whale watching.
And of course, I love La Paz. So close by, such a different atmosphere. When my husband was Secretary of Tourism for Baja California Sur, we moved to La Paz. Those were some of the neatest two years of my life.
When you moved to La Paz, what happened to Casa Vieja?
I was coming and going to La Paz and it was hard. You have to always be in the store so I thought it was best to close down if I couldn't be there. I always thought I would re-open it. I missed it, but it was a demanding store and I had to be there to keep it up.
Destiny is something special. I told everyone to keep an eye open for a local spot. I ran into a buddy of mine who was walking with John Pentz. Pentz was planning to build a shopping center. As it turns out, it was just what I was looking for. Pentz said the shopping center was going to be "top of the line." I told Pentz to ask the locals about Casa Vieja. He called back and said "Let's have dinner!"
We have been here at the Shoppes at Palmilla for 6 years.
The new Casa Vieja Store in the Shoppes at Palmilla
What kinds of things do you sell at Casa Vieja?
Mostly Mexican or Latin American designers. Columbian designs are very strong right now. They import lots of materials from Italy and there's a lot of young designer that are very hip.
Most of our cliental comes from the US and Canada so I want to share something different with them.
Can you show us some of your favorite things in your store?
These shirts are made from fibers from cacti. It's a lady and her daughter in the state of Michochan who design them. They walk through the cacti fields wearing these clothes that make the fibers attach to them. They make the yarn on a foot loom from the fibers. And then they dye it and knit it.
I have two tops I've worn and I always get comments on them. A lot of people ask if it's scratchy. It's not!
These are handmade shoes from San Miguel de Allende. They are very comfortable and only $60.
I love Pineda Colvin. We have a corner here at Casa Vieja and I also own a Pineda Colvin shop in downtown San Jose del Cabo. They use the Mexican culture to inspire their designs. They are especially known for the Monarch butterflies pattern. We have lots of handbags, scarfs, ponchos, ties and more.
Where do you find most of these items?
Along my travels. I'm always asking around and I have friends that have shops. And being in the hotel business, I made many connections and we pass along many tips.
Out of the restaurants, hotels and stores, what was your favorite adventure?
Favorite? I loved being in hotels, and I loved being in the shops. I enjoyed the hotels fully, but i couldn't grow any more. I was ready to start something else.
Silver jewelry on display at Casa Vieja
What's in store for you next?
Consolidating my stores. I have to be on top of it with the economy. And I would like to enjoy my grandchildren. I have 12 grandchildren!
You've been very successful. What tips do you have for success?
- Don't be afraid of change. The older you get, the more resistant you are. Accept change and enjoy.
- Work doing something that you like to do. Life is short.
- Your family and friends are important. You need to work on your relationships.
Leticia Klein has convinced me that I need to visit Guerrero Negro (whales please!). What's a place would you like to visit in Baja?
Photos also by Cara Gourley
Cara Gourley is the Director of Web Strategy for All About Mexico as well as an All About Girl. She's a certified Los Cabos Expert and has been to Cabo many times.
If you have any questions on restaurants, hotels or activities, Cara would love to help you! You can head to the forum to ask a question or you can email her directly.