EAST SIDE — Ines Ornelas’ journey to opening her Southeast Side store for bath and body products began with a skiing accident.
Ornelas suffered an ACL tear and dislocated knee on a ski trip last year, a major setback as she prepared for the ultimately canceled Ironman 70.3 triathlon in Puerto Rico.
In pain and stuck at home, “I started playing around with bath salts to help me soothe my muscles, hoping to recuperate quicker so I could go back in my training mode,” Ornelas said. “From there, I’m like, ‘You know what? I can create a business for this.'”
That’s precisely what Ornelas did. Now, Toci, La Diosa — which debuted on Etsy in January 2021 — is celebrating a year in business with a new brick-and-mortar store at 3656 E. 106th St.
A gift set featuring a lavender milk bath, an exfoliant, bath salts, body butter, a bar of soap and lip balm ($50) is available for Valentine’s Day.
Toci, La Diosa’s hours are 3:30-6 p.m. Monday-Tuesday, 3:30-8 p.m. Wednesdays, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Sundays. Proof of vaccination is required for entry.
Toci, La Diosa has a larger mission than just racking up sales, Ornelas said. She’s working to grow the shop into a “collective” for Southeast Side small business owners and creatives.
The East Side native credits “networking with a lot of other women business owners” and selling her goods at local farmers markets and pop-up events with getting Toci, La Diosa off the ground.
Understanding the power of collaboration, Ornelas has organized pop-ups at the store every Saturday since opening. Five local businesses are invited per week to set up tables for a $25 entry fee. The shop’s next pop-up is 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday.
“Part of living in the community is helping the community flourish,” Ornelas said. “My whole idea is to give opportunities to East Siders, South Siders [and people from] Hegewisch.”
Ornelas has also held two community art contests since starting the business. The winners’ artworks have been used on the shop’s products and merchandise. A third contest is underway.
Toci, La Diosa also hosts yoga sessions Wednesdays and Sundays, as well as monthly paint nights. Ornelas is considering holding open mic performances in the future.
“I am confident that eventually it’s going to be a safe space for everyone,” Ornelas said. “I’ve been collaborating with people [to offer] a little bit of something for everybody.”
Consider triathlons, entrepreneurship and community development to be Ornelas’ side hustles. For her day job, she’s a math teacher at Gallistel Language Academy, just a few blocks away from the shop.
“I sleep two hours a day — for real, for real,” said Ornelas, adding people frequently ask her where she draws energy from. “I love working with my kids, I love math.
“Then when I leave [school], I walk into [Toci, La Diosa] and see how I can continue providing to the community — not as an educator, but in bringing income into the neighborhood.”
Ornelas handles nearly every role at Toci, La Diosa. She creates the “handcrafted” products with natural ingredients, “love and detail,” she said. She also handles marketing and shipping, and even remodeled the storefront — which previously hosted Uncle Paws Grooming Salon — before it opened.
However, Ornelas isn’t entirely alone in operating the shop. Her 14-year-old daughter, Sophia, is “an integral part of the business,” helping to put items together and makes them “look pretty,” Ornelas said.
Sophia has “been there since day one, being very understanding of the vision and the dream,” Ornelas said. “Everything I do, I do for her success, for her growth.”
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