A love of music, a passion for travel, and a mindful devotion to fun.
Mexicali Blues' founders, Kim and Pete Erskine with two of their three kiddos!
That’s all it took to launch Mexicali Blues back in 1988. What started with a breezy road trip and one tiny storefront in Portland, Maine, has since grown into six shops, an online retail and social hub, and our very own brand of unique and adventurous clothing, jewelry, and gifts. We believe in responsibly importing eclectic goods that you won’t find anyplace else. And yeah, we’re still super devoted to fun.
Owners Pete and Kim Erskine are Mexicali’s original seekers, surfing street markets and bazaars from Bangkok to Lima in search of exotic and wearable treasures. Our buying model has its roots in Mexicali’s very first inventory, a trove of funky, handmade clothes and accessories that Pete picked up during a post-college ramble through Mexico and Guatemala.
Back then, we supplemented our imported wares with a lot of Grateful Dead merchandise—we even took our name from one our favorite songs. Today, you’ll still find plenty of Grateful and hippie-fied goods around the store, but Mexicali has come a long way since that first little shop, crowded with concert tees and road-trip loot. (For starters, we don’t close up anymore just because, hey, it’s nice out.)
We’ve spent twenty-five years expanding our global aesthetic, filling our shelves with everything from colorful batiks and tie-dyes to exotic gemstone jewelry, bohemian skirts and tops, and Eastern-inspired décor. Our apparel and accessories are handpicked and imported without any middlemen. We’re committed to creating and maintaining long-term and mutually beneficial relationships with the artisans and families who create our products. Pete and Kim have known many of our vendors for a decade or more, and a highlight of their travels is the chance to visit workshops and catch up with old friends.
We believe that world culture and community culture are two sides of the same peso. Our travels and our website take us all over the world, but our stores and our hearts are back home in Maine. We think globally and commune locally. From our flagship store in Newcastle to our two shops in Portland’s Old Port to our heart-of-town locations in Freeport, Raymond, and Bangor, you won’t find Mexicali Blues at the mall. We love where we live, and we’re proud to sponsor local concerts and events for environmental and educational causes.
In the many years since that first road trip, we’ve been all around this world, taking in its colors, scents, and sounds, and then bringing some of it home to share with our friends. We’re a little bit crunchy and a little bit conscious and a little bit chic. That’s Mexicali Blues. Clothing that fits your mind, jewelry to accent your life.
Meet the crew
A Hallowell native, jewelry aficionado, and collector of tribal masks, Alice came to Mexicali in 2003 and has watched the company grow from just two stores. When she isn’t keeping things hopping in our Portland stores, Alice is also a mom and a practicing doula.
Favorite time of the year at Mexicali: “I like it around Valentine’s Day, when all the clueless boyfriends and husbands wander in. It’s just fun to help them out, get everybody a little less stressed.”
Before becoming the model of hard work and responsibility that he is today, Chris was just another starry-eyed, shaggy-headed preteen hanging around the original Mexicali Blues in Portland’s Old Port. Back in the day, he used to volunteer to run out for change, and after college in Oregon and a few years of travel, Chris brought it on home to Mexicali, first managing our Raymond location and now our Freeport store. Outside of work, you can usually find him catching some live music or kicking around a soccer ball.
Why he loves the Freeport store: “It’s a destination for just about everyone: It’s not just hippies, it’s not just doctors, it’s not just Canadian tourists. People come in from all walks of life, and most of them will spend an hour just walking around, laughing, having a good time.”
Shannon’s a native Mainer who’s lived in New York and worked on a medicinal herb farm in Oregon. Before starting out as a seasonal employee at Mexicali in 2001, she managed a restaurant across the street from our tiny original store, and she used to swing by on her breaks (she even bought her college graduation dress from us back in the day). Shannon’s also a Phishhead going way back and a collector of ghost stories from around New England. Mexicali might even be a Bailey family affair, as her seven-year-old daughter wants badly to work in the store and sometimes grabs a nametag to help hang clothes.
On taking you work home with you: “A lot of my paycheck goes back into the store. People don’t like to move my closet when we move. You’d see a lot of Mexicali in there.”
Steph and her husband started in Massachusetts, then followed life’s trail through Florida and Oregon before wending their way to Poland, Maine. Steph’s a big-time animal lover, and the furry members of her family include a mini schnauzer and a shepherd-husky mix who love the wooded trails around the McNally cabin. Being near Sebago Lake is a perk, and in the summertime, Steph grabs a rod and takes the bass boat out nearly every weekend. Expect to find some Doors posters among the concert merch at Steph’s store, since she’s a wee bit of a Jim Morrison fan (“If he were alive today, he would be my man”).
What sets the Raymond store apart: “Ask anyone: We’re the quirky Mexicali. We have a lot of fun. Sometimes the whole day is nothing but laughing — us and the customers.”
Julie Baker Leaden
“Retail’s in my blood,” says Julie. So is a fondness for cool, imported treasures and a deep commitment to the local-business ethos. Julie spent two decades working for Maine’s World Over Imports before joining the Mexicali family to open our Bangor store in 2011. She likes to hit the trails at Bangor City Forest and Acadia National Park, and in the summers, she and her two teens pay regular visits to the hermit crabs at Lincolnville Beach. Music’s in Julie’s blood, too — she never missies Bangor’s KahBang fest or the American Folk Festival.
Coolest thing she’s bought at Mexicali recently: “A coconut pocketbook! It’s a coconut, and you can unzip it. So not only is it a great fashion statement, it can also be used as a weapon.”
Co-owner / Buyer
She’s a homegrown Maine girl through and through, but growing up in Hollis, Kim never thought she’d stick around the Pine Tree State. Then one day, she dropped into a new store called Mexicali Blues, hoping to ask Pete’s cofounder for a date. He was out for the day, so she talked to Pete instead (he remembers her as “a cute hippie chick”). The rest is Mexicali history.
Kim’s not the type to sit still. When she’s not in the office (or surfing a street market in Bali), she’s in a kayak or maybe at the gym. She brings her fun, flowy style along on the Erskines’ buying trips, and for many years, Pete and Kim also brought along their three kids. “I thought they’d turn sixteen and never want to go anywhere again,” Kim says, but these days, the love of travel is a family affair (although, for the record, Kim’s pretty glad she stayed in Maine).
On the overlap between music and travel: “It’s the same sort of feel when you go to a show or when you’re traveling someplace with a bunch of other travelers — it’s just all sort of groovy and new.”
Co-owner / Buyer
When your dad’s a globetrotting English professor, you learn pretty young that the world is one big classroom. So it was for Pete, growing up in Maryland in the 1970s. But while far-flung family trips were the norm, the highlight of every year was a summer visit to the family camp in South Bristol, Maine. After Pete wrapped up a sociology degree at Gettysburg College in 1986?, he promised himself three things: He’d keep on traveling, he’d keep on having fun, and he’d find a way to live in South Bristol.
In 1988, Pete and a fraternity brother opened the first Mexicali Blues in Portland’s Old Port, because that seemed like a good way to do all three. He met Kim a year later, and by 1990, the pair were married and running the store together. Want to know about Pete’s interests? Step into any of our stores. World culture, great music, family, and community — that’s what makes our founder tick. Also, if it wasn’t for him, we might have ended up being called “The Cancun Connection.” So thanks, Pete!
On the seat-of-the-pants nature of Pete and Kim’s early trips abroad: “We didn’t do a lot of planning back then. We just hit the ground with one backpack, one stroller, and two or three kids in tow. Then we were off for a month in Asia!”
Mexicali pulled Topher into its orbit slowly, but inevitably. The Massachusetts native first met Pete during summer visits to Midcoast Maine as a teen. As a college kid studying finance at the University of New Hampshire, he worked a season for us, then launched a research project on cross-border commerce, using Mexicali as his case study. After a few years in finance in New Hampshire (plus a stint shaping surfboards), Topher and his wife followed their bliss back to Maine. “We said, ‘Let’s decide where we want to be in life,’ then opted to go where we spend our two weeks every year.” These days, Topher assembles many of Mexicali’s puzzle pieces: business operations, finance, marketing. When he can, he sneaks in some surfing, rock-climbing, golf, and biking (Topher once pedaled 2,200 miles from San Diego to St. Louis). And if that’s not impressive enough, check out what he is up to today on Instagram or Twitter.
On business philosophy: “You just have to constantly 'do good'. That’s recycling, being green, treating your employees right, cultivating sound buying habits and keeping your eye out for what the next 'right' business decision for your company is. You simply have to strive do a 'good job' at what you do.”
Shipments come every day from places like Bali, Bangkok, and Baja, and it takes an organizational rockstar to receive them all. Not only does Jess keep our warehouse running smoothly, she also lines up our new products and names them all, just like Adam and the animals. Think your “Florabundance Multi-Flower Skirt” has a nice ring to it? Credit Jess’s Creative Writing degree from the University of Maine. She and her husband built their home in South Bristol, but they’re equally at home on a boat, in a tent, or on the road (they’re veterans of a cross-country VW bus sojourn). Phish is another of Jess’s passions, and the Kelseys hit up as many shows as they can while still keeping their jobs.
The best thing about Midcoast Maine: “How laid-back people are, but at the same time so driven. People are totally focused, but also super chill.”
“You know, you could be doing a lot more with your show window.” So said a young Steve some years ago to Mexicali’s young founder Pete, thereby stumbling into a job handling merchandising, staging, store design, construction, and all manner of unclassifiable tasks for almost two decades. When he’s not making our stores look amazing, Steve is making perennial improvements to his home in South Bristol, where he likes to cook and entertain (whipping up simple little dishes like, oh, a prime-rib dinner for eighteen friends). Steve’s also our resident road warrior: As a kid he lived he all over the country, in the ‘80s he toured with the Dead, and today we keep him moving from store to store.
On the relative value of advance planning: “I’m rather ad hoc by nature, which drives everyone nuts. For example, when I got frustrated that I had animals crawling around my ceiling and keeping me up at night, I just tore my roof off. After that, I learned how to build a roof.”
Beth just gets us. She grew up down the road in Whitefield and has shopped at Mexicali since she was a teenager, which is maybe why she’s so good at capturing our aesthetic with cool art and printed materials. Away from Mexicali, Beth puts her MFA in graphic design to good use, designing book covers and magazine spreads. She and her husband coach their two kids (and other people’s kids) in softball, soccer, baseball, and teeball. Fun facts: Beth has seven cats, digs the Black Keys and M83, and has driven two previous boyfriends into the Coast Guard.
On designing for the store: “Mexicali is one of the best mediums I’ve ever worked in. It’s tactile, it’s visual — everything about is exciting, as a designer.”
Keith remembers the days when Mexicali Blues in Newcastle sold skateboards, and as a young thrasher growing up in New Harbor, he’d stop in occasionally for a new plank. These days, he keeps our IT systems up and running, troubleshooting POS systems and making the networks hum. After hours, Keith trades spools of Ethernet cables for coils of climbing rope, hitting the crags in Camden or Bethel.
On workplace camaraderie: “We can laugh about stuff. We always have a good time. Even if someone here is grumpy, they’re usually laughing and joking about it.”
Ever called up to say how much you loved that halter dress you bought on the website? Then you probably talked to Lynette, who oversees our web order fulfillment. When she started with Mexicali, Lynette handled about three web orders per week. Now it can be up to 150 a day — so yeah, Lynette’s busy. In a previous life, she was a real estate agent around her hometown of Damariscotta, and she still pours a mean pint from time to time at Lincoln County hangouts like Coveside and King Eider’s Pub. When she isn’t working, look for Lynette on the water, boating around Maine’s islands and paddleboarding in Hawaii.
On diverse musical interests: “If somebody were to look at my Pandora, they’d think I’d lost my mind. I go for everything from the Grateful Dead and Phish to Katy Perry and Snoop Dog.”
Meghan works on our product photography, writes the Mexicali Blues blog, and holds down our Twitter feed and Facebook page. But her true calling is to be a wandering ukulele troubadour, illustrator, and hula-hoop dancer. She’s been known to practice the latter in our office parking lot during lunch breaks. Meghan split her childhood between Rhode Island and Georgia before coming with her folks to central Maine, then did a few years in Austin (keeping it weird) before wandering back to the Midcoast. The proud curator of an unruly record collection, Meghan regularly surfs the sale bins at Bull Moose and Strange Maine.
On the importance of job titles: “When I first started working here, I was the only person doing web stuff. I said, ‘What’s my title?’ and they said, ‘Come up with your own.’ So I’m a web-marketing Jedi. I don’t know if that’s still okay, but it’s what’s at the bottom of my email.”