An elegant ending

Sonja Escalante (left), owner of A Touch of Elegance in Watsonville, along with Martha Gonzalez and Christina Martinez are shown immersed in the inventory of dresses the shop features. — Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian

Dress shop to close after four decades

WATSONVILLE — One of Watsonville’s long-standing businesses — A Touch of Elegance — is nearing its final curtain call.

After 41 years of providing a giant selection of wedding and quinceañera dresses and tuxedo rentals on the Central Coast, owner Sonja Escalante said she feels she simply can’t provide the level of high quality service and products she has prided herself on.

Escalante, who was born in Germany, said she first got started as hired help in 1978 at Touch of Elegance Bridal and Fabric on the 400 block of Main Street in downtown Watsonville. The business eventually moved to the 500 block and in 1979 Escalante bought the flower department section of the business.

“I just couldn’t make a living at $2.39 an hour,” she said. “I later bought the entire business in 1988 after the owner, Betty Irvine, had a heart attack.”

After the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake A Touch of Elegance moved to its current location, 2 Brennan St. at the corner of East Lake Avenue.

“I’m going to retire and probably stay in Watsonville,” she said. “I’m closing the store at the end of July. I have a few buyers but they haven’t come through with any money — you know how that goes.”

With close to 2,800 square-feet of gowns, dresses, tuxedoes and accessories, Escalante said she has been running the store for the last two and half years by herself.

“There’s so much that goes into this,” she said. “I speak Spanish, I deal with all kinds of reps, ordering, inventory, sales, and anyone who walks through my doors — it’s a lot. I’m 87 years old and I don’t want to quit working. I always liked my customers, my clients. I just got along with people really well.”

Escalante said her father died during World War II and that she and her mother, who worked as a cook, were forced by the Nazis to move. They ended up in Bavaria and then moved to Canada.

“We eventually got a sponsor that allowed us to move to a farm in Oregon,” Escalante said. “But the farm life wasn’t for me; I’m a city girl and I just needed more.”

She said that’s when she made contact with one of her women friends from Germany, who had since moved to Watsonville. Though the contract with the farmer family called for Escalante and her mother to stay there for a year, an exception was made. Thus, Escalante moved to Watsonville to reconnect with her German friend. She eventually married but did not have kids.

“You know, I never really liked it here, but one day my husband and I were driving over Hecker Pass and we saw this beautiful sunset over the sea and the Pajaro Valley and it suddenly hit me just how beautiful it was here,” she said. “From that day on I’ve loved this place; there’s really no other place like it.”

For now, A Touch of Elegance is running a half-off sale on the entire inventory.

“I have loads of small to medium dresses and a large variety of vintage dresses that need to go,” she said.

“This has all been very fulfilling — I feel good about coming to work,” Escalante said. “My biggest thing is I don’t want to let anybody down —that’s the reason I’m closing: Considering my age, I just don’t want to let anybody down. I have so many thank you notes, and so many repeat customers — if it wasn’t for them I probably would have gone out of business a long time ago. I am so thankful for everyone that came in to my store.”


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