Esther Ortiz was born in Mexico and spent her childhood straddling the California border, but she found her home in Erie. In 1994, her parents landed jobs at Plastek, a local plastics manufacturing company and settled in Erie’s upper west side neighborhood. Their family of 11 – her parents and their nine children – moved into a small two-room apartment. It was a humble home, but her parents knew Erie’s affordability would put the middle class within reach. “My parents felt more at peace here,” Esther says.
Esther dreamed of opening a business, but with children to support, she was happy to find stable work at Port Erie Plastics, which manufactured CD cases and parts for cars and vacuums. She started as a packer and was later promoted to quality control inspector. Her husband worked at a different shop, and they were able to provide a good life for their three children, who are now 25, 22 and 14.
“I feel so much joy sharing my art and culture with people. It’s a beautiful way to build community.”
In 2018, on vacation in Colorado, Esther and her family wandered into a pinata shop and something “just clicked,” she said. A business venture was born. In 2020, she opened Esther’s Pinata Shop out of her garage. Today, she sells handcrafted pinatas in shapes ranging from Power Rangers to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her customers are primarily Erie natives, but she has also been commissioned to create pinatas for a women’s expo, an art show and the 2020 United Arts Fund.
She says Erie’s supportive community helped her business thrive. Early on, a local developer loaned Esther an empty storefront. When the executive director of Erie Arts and Culture saw her selling pinatas at the flea market, he invited her to join. The organization has helped her with branding, grant applications and business promotion. During the pandemic, they helped her land a virtual gig teaching students how to make pinatas.
Esther is proud to be an integral part of Erie’s thriving arts scene. Her pinatas have been featured in local art shows and gallery nights. She has taught students at the YMCA, Charter School of Excellence, and the Pennsylvania Art Education Association. “I feel so much joy sharing my art and culture with people,” she says. “It’s a beautiful way to build community.”