The old superstition that you shouldn’t open an umbrella indoors lest you be doomed to seven years of bad luck doesn’t seem to apply to Paragüería Rego, a renowned umbrella store located behind La Merced Church in downtown San José.
“The superstition doesn’t apply here because we are selling them,” said Irene Rubinstein, one of the owner’s four grown children, as she attended a client in the crowded store on a recent rainy afternoon.
The 70-year-old paragüería has belonged to the Rubinstein family for six decades. The owners,Rogelio Rubinstein and his wife María Raifer, are Polish immigrants who came to Costa Rica with their families in the 1930s.
They met while they were studying accounting the former ManuelAragónSchool, a business management school in San José. With the advice and help of his father-inlaw, Rogelio Rubinstein bought the Paragüería Rego in 1948 from Domingo Rego, a Spaniard who had started the umbrella factory 10 years earlier. Rego taught the young couple how to make the umbrellas, then departed to seek his fortune in Argentina.
“According to my mother, there were so many clients that they would wait at the store for her to finish sewing new umbrellas,” Rubinstein told The Tico Times.
An umbrella store in a country where it rains most afternoons a good part of the year is bound to be a hit, and that certainly was the case with Paragüería Rego. In fact, it grew so much that by 1954, the Rubinsteins had to expand. They bought a second building just around the block from the original shop, on Ave. 4 between 8 and 10 streets, and moved umbrella production to the new location.
During its heyday, approximately 70 employees worked to assemble and sell the umbrellas, according to owner Rogelio Rubinstein, 84, who still works at the paragüería.
Today, the store employs 20 people who continue to assemble and sell umbrellas with materials imported from United States, China and Taiwan. The store has fewer employees now in part because globalization has meant more competition, but also simply because umbrellas are more easily assembled now than in years past, so fewer hands are required, Irene explained.
The store not only makes umbrellas but repairs them for a very reasonable price – provided they were made at Rego.
“We all do a little bit of everything,” said employee Cecilia Fallas, 50, who has worked at the store for two dozen years.
The factory produces umbrellas yearround, but the busy production time comes between September and March, in preparation for Costa Rica’s notorious rainy season, usually April to November. When the rains come, the store becomes flooded with customers.
During the dry months, production diversifies to include beach umbrellas, a tactic that has allowed the store to remain in business all year long. In fact, the store has just introduced beach umbrellas made with a special fabric affording protection from damaging UV rays.
“We have adapted to the consumer,” Irene explains. “We now have 50 different umbrella styles.”
The factory offers a variety of services –companies can order umbrellas with theirlogo on them, for example – and sells both retail and wholesale.
The factory produces about 2,400 umbrellas – paragüas and sombrillas – each week. Paragüas are large, plain black umbrellas usually used by men, while sombrillas feature colorful designs and are usually used by women, sometimes as parasols to protect their skin from the harsh tropical sun.
Rego umbrellas, which cost anywhere from ¢1,200-6,000 ($2-12) each, can be found at almost any supermarket or corner store in Costa Rica.
“Who hasn’t had a Rego umbrella? That is the question,” Irene Rubinstein said.
Caring for Your Umbrella
What can you do to ensure your umbrella has a long life? “The most important thing is to never store an umbrella while wet,” Irene Rubinstein recommends. “The humidity will cause the umbrella’s metal frame to rust, and that will diminish its useful life.”
When you open or close an umbrella, do so gently to avoid breaking any of the delicate metal frame ribs.