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May 08, 1991|ELENA BRUNET

Last weekend--Cinco de Mayo weekend--was the busiest of the year for Oscar Vargas, owner of Pinata Party in Santa Ana. In the days preceding Cinco de Mayo, the store was delivering more than 150 pinatas a day.

Pinatas of every variety--mermaids, dinosaurs, valentines, round drums with birthday greetings--crowd the East 17th Street storefront. Inside there is a pinata pirate, sailor boy, football player, soccer player and standing guitar. A pinata bride stands proudly in a long white tissue-paper dress, beside her a pinata groom in a tuxedo.

These are no ordinary pinatas--and the sizes and subjects are not typically Mexican. The style was created by Vargas' sister, Aurelia Dixon.

Pinata Party began by reason of Dixon's talents and Vargas' business sense. Dixon learned from an aunt how to create pinatas fancier than the simple four-pointed stars and burros generally imported from Tijuana. She created alternative pinatas--brightly colored clowns and dinosaurs, among other things--for her family and friends. When Vargas saw her creations, this engineer with a master's degree in international business suggested they start a business.

So Pinata Party came into being a little more than three years ago. The factory is housed in an industrial building beside the railroad tracks on Lincoln Avenue, just south of 17th Street in Santa Ana. The showroom on 17th Street proved a big plus, attracting retail trade from people just passing by.

Pinatas are colorful, hollow figures filled with candies or other treats. According to Mexican tradition, on birthdays and holidays a pinata is hung from a tree limb (or something similar), and then blindfolded children take turns swinging a stick at it to try to break it open.

Pinatas are traditionally made in the shape of five-pointed stars or small animals: A papier-mache mold encasing a clay pot or cardboard center holding candies, cookies, nuts and trinkets is made, and then the mold is decorated with colorful paper.

But Pinata Party makes them not of clay, wire or cardboard but of Expandable Poly Styrene--though this hollow frame is still filled with the same candies and gifts. The advantage is that this pinata breaks or crumbles like a clay pinata upon impact.

The shop is now moving its wares from its current location to a new one down the street. This new store, at 1134 E. 17th St., will be called Party Star and will be a general party store.

The store has acquired licenses to depict pinatas with Walt Disney, Peanuts, the Simpsons ("Happy Birthday, Man") and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles characters.

Factory tours will still be available by appointment for those interested to see how the pinatas are made.

"We're really proud of what we're doing and don't mind showing people," Vargas said.

Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday to Friday; 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday.

Address: 1134 E. 17th St.,

Santa Ana

Telephone: (714) 547-3327

Miscellaneous Information: The new location will be beside Aaron Brothers Art Mart, a space formerly occupied by the Barn Shop. Aurelia Dixon has opened a store of her own, Clubhouse Party and Gifts, in Laguna Niguel.

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