On the westernmost point of Texas, only a twenty-minute drive from the Mexican-U.S. border, El Paso’s Chuco Relic peddles local art and helps foster a sense of local pride.
“I had a customer and he was telling me ‘I was the kind of El Pasoan that didn’t really like El Paso… but your store has helped me love it, because you made me realize little things about it that are different, like the star on the mountain’,” says owner Chelsie Evaldi, recounting a patron’s story to her. “Sometimes a lot of El Pasoans forget what they have, and Chuco Relic helps them remember.”
Located at TI:ME at Montecillo, a local shopping center, Chuco Relic opened almost three years ago in a city on the precipice of great financial growth. The store used to be called Manchot (French for “penguin”) until Evaldi bought it from a friend who was moving away. Once the opportunity to move to Montecillo presented itself, Evaldi knew it was time for a rebranding that aligned with her El Pasoan pride.
“Customers would ask: why a penguin in French? What does that have to do with El Paso?” she says. “When I got the opportunity to move over, I kept thinking, I need to change the name.”
Chuco Relic came from Evaldi wanting a name with the initials “CR” — initials that she, her husband, and her children all share.
“I thought ‘chuco,’ because of course it starts with a ‘c,’ and it’s El Paso,” Evaldi says, adding that she got a lot of pushback from friends and family when she proposed the name of the store.
El Paso is often fondly known as Chuco Town, or El Chuco, a name that refers to the “Pachuco” Chicano subculture that arose in the early 1900s of impeccable street style and often, gang activity.
“It’s like an inside El Paso thing; if you know what chuco means, it’s because you’re from El Paso and you get it,” Evaldi says. “I thought, I’m gonna make it where El Pasoans can say ‘chuco’ and think of all the positive stuff, their pride for their town.”
Evaldi grew up in Juarez and El Paso, attending St. Pius and then Burges High School. She then spent time traveling as a student athlete and finance major at McMurry University in Abilene, embarking on road trips with friends, and spending her final year of college in Spain. Later, Evaldi traveled through Europe for six months after taking a break from a finance career she says she didn’t feel at home in. It was through her time traveling that her love for local art grew.
“Every time I traveled I was like ‘okay, where are the markets? Let’s go see what people are making here,’” she says. “I feel like when you go to the markets, you meet the locals and then they’re the ones that tell you all the secrets about the best things to do. So that’s how I fell in love with handmade things, because I wanted to support the local community when I traveled, and I loved the stuff they made.”
Evaldi says Chuco Relic always introduces a new artist and a new shirt design every month.
“We have those customers that come in whenever they have a chance and we want them to have something new to look at, or a new artist to introduce to more people,” she says.
While much of the merchandise is universally appealing, inside jokes that only El Pasoans would understand also abound. One t-shirt emblazoned with “I’d eat my broccoli” is a playful reference to a commercial dating back to the ’90s and ’80s for Western Playland, El Paso’s local amusement park.
“I feel like with those little things like ‘chuco’ or ‘I’d eat my broccoli’ we’re just different in that way, that we have even our own inside language and jokes within a whole community,” Evaldi says. “I feel so honored that I get to do that, that I get to sell those inside things so people can display it proudly.”
“There’s no place like El Paso… We’re just in a perfect place because we have Juarez, the bicultural community, and then we have New Mexico, the Indian community, the Tiguas — we’re just a really cool melting pot,” she adds. “When you’re growing up here, you think it’s normal. And then you leave and you realize, whoa, El Paso’s actually amazing.”