Jumpolin Seeks New Home

Owners won't return to old neighborhood, thanks to rising rents

Monica (r) and Sergio Lejarazu (Photo by Jana Birchum)

The owners of the Jumpolin piñata store, who made national headlines when their Eastside storefront was demolished in February by the building's new owners, are seeking a lease for a new, permanent location. But the search for a potential new site – far from the Eastside hub at which they were firmly established – further illustrates how increasing property values are forcing local residents and businesses from the city's center.

Monica Lejarazu – who owns Jumpolin along with her husband Sergio – said the store may be relocated along Gunter Street near Airport Boulevard if lease negotiations bear fruit. Another site off U.S. 183 at Calla­han is also being considered. In a recent telephone interview, she said the space she and her husband are looking at is considerably larger than their previous site at 1409 E. Cesar Chavez, where they had been a fixture for the past eight years.

"That's the one that interests us the most," she said of the Gunter Street building. While the area would be away from their former established client base, it would be a return to roots in a sense, Monica explained, noting it was that area where she and her husband first plied their wares upon arriving from Mexico and before landing at East Cesar Chavez.

At the end of April, the Lejarazus had to vacate a temporary site at 4926 E. Cesar Chavez that had been loaned to them by community leader Rosa Santis. Since then, there has been no income coming into the Lejarazus household, Monica added.

"Estamos sin entrada," she said, meaning "we're without income." "That's one of the things that's hurting us. We had our Easter sales, but now we have nothing coming in. I've never been stuck at home for so long." Were it not for her visiting mother-in-law whom she's been entertaining, she said, it would be hard not to fixate on the need to find a new space. "When you have family at home, you're distracted," she said.

The Lejarazus have sued their former landlords for the demolition they say took place without proper notice. But the legal process is a long one, and the possibility of a settlement is far away. One thing is certain, however: Jumpolin won't be returning to the Eastside, given exponentially higher lease rates in Central East Austin.

"Unfortunately, the spaces are very, very expensive and very small," Monica said of other Eastside options they explored. Santis offered the couple a different one of her properties for rent – just off Cesar Chavez, along Springdale – but the lease terms proved financially prohibitive. Elsewhere on the Eastside, vacant spaces command rents upwards of $3,000 a month, but the Leja­razus' cap is roughly $2,500, Monica said.

"It has a very big space," she said of the site they're hoping to land near Airport Boulevard. "It's about 2,500 square feet, with about 1,800 square feet of lawn area. It's much bigger," she said, than their former site. The building would be able to accommodate a teaching space, she said. She envisions the classes less as a primer on opening up a piñata business and more as therapeutic for those seeing piñata-making as a fun hobby. "It would be something to entertain the children or for seniors. I don't see it as competition. And if it helps forge artists, well, it'd be an honor."

Mexic-Arte Museum has recognized the artistry of the Lejarazus' piñata-making skills, recently commissioning a large-scale version of their handiwork – the biggest piñata they've ever undertaken, Monica notes – for the 2015 Dia de los Muertos parade. The timing of the commission was fortuitous, ensuring them some future income to augment the $5,665 raised by community members in a GoFundMe campaign to help them rebuild.

"It's in the shape of a calavera," Monica said of the parade piñata. "It's two meters high. It's bigger than a van!"

As the Lejarazus plot their future, their saga has inspired action behind the scenes. Post-demolition, state Rep. Eddie Rod­ri­guez (who lives mere blocks from the scene of the rubble) filed HB 3561, intended to provide stiffer penalties in cases of wrongful evictions, tying financial deterrents to market value of the property in question. (Sergio provided testimony as the bill was being considered; it ultimately did not pass.) On another front, the Lejarazus' plight has inspired a short documentary that was recently shown as part of the annual East Austin Stories program.

But for now, it's a waiting game as new lease negotiations continue. Monica joked that her daughter gently poked fun at her for the growing garden at their home – a sign of her abundance of free time.

"In my life I haven't been stuck at home so long," she said. "But we'll keep looking."

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Jumpolin, Monica Lejarazu, Sergio Lejarazu, Eastside, East Cesar Chavez, gentrification

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