A teacher in the Southeast started an online store of balms and butters. Now she has a thriving retail store that helps others


EAST SIDE – Ines Ornelas’ journey to open her Southeast Side bath and body shop began with a skiing accident.

Ornelas suffered a torn ACL and dislocated knee during 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 with bath salts to help soothe my muscles, hoping to recover faster so I could get back into my training mode,” said Ornelas. “From there, I’m like, ‘You know what? I can start a business for this.

This is precisely what Ornelas did. Now, Toci, La Diosa — which debuted on Etsy in January 2021 — is celebrating a year in business with a new physical store at 3656 E. 106th St.

Named after the Aztec “mother of the gods” and goddess of healing, the store offers lotion bars ($12), tattoo balms ($12) and other natural body care products.

A gift set including a lavender milk bath, exfoliator, bath salts, body butter, bar soap and lip balm ($50) is available for Valentine’s Day.

Toci, La Diosa’s opening hours are 3:30-6pm Monday-Tuesday, 3:30-8pm Wednesday, 11am-4pm Saturday, and 10am-1pm Sunday. Proof of vaccination is required for entry.

Credit: Ines Ornelas
The exterior of Toci, La Diosa, 3656 E. 106th St. on the East Side.
Credit: Toci, La Diosa
The Valentine’s Day gift box offers a sample of Toci, La Diosa’s line of products including soap, body butter and more.

Toci, La Diosa has a bigger mission than just racking up sales, Ornelas said. She’s working to make the boutique a “collective” for small business owners and creatives across the Southeast.

The East Side native credits “networking with many other female business owners” and selling her wares at local farmers’ markets and pop-up events for getting Toci, La Diosa off the ground.

Understanding the power of collaboration, Ornelas has been hosting pop-ups at the store every Saturday since it opened. Five local businesses are invited per week to set up tables for a $25 entry fee. The stores next popup is 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

“Part of living in the community is helping the community thrive,” Ornelas said. “My idea is to give opportunities to the East Siders, to the South Siders [and people from] Hegewisch.

Ornelas has also organized two community art competitions since the start of the business. The winners’ artwork was used on products and store merchandise. A third competition is underway.

Toci, La Diosa also hosts yoga sessions on Wednesdays and Sundays, as well as monthly painting nights. Ornelas plans to hold open-mic performances in the future.

“I’m confident that eventually it will be a safe space for everyone,” Ornelas said. “I have collaborated with people [to offer] a bit of something for everyone.

Consider triathlons, entrepreneurship, and community building as Ornelas’ side activities. For her day job, she is a math teacher at the Gallistel Language Academy, a few blocks from the store.

“I sleep two hours a day – for real, for real,” Ornelas said, adding that people frequently ask where she gets her energy from. “I love working with my kids, I love math.

“Then when I leave [school], I enter [Toci, La Diosa] and see how I can continue to provide for the community – not as an educator, but by bringing income to the neighborhood.

Ornelas handles nearly every role at Toci, La Diosa. She creates “artisanal” products with natural ingredients, “love and detail,” she said. She also handles marketing and shipping, and even remodeled the storefront – which previously housed the Uncle Paws grooming salon – before it opened.

However, Ornelas is not entirely alone in running the shop. His 14-year-old daughter, Sophia, is “an integral part of the business,” helping to put the items together and making them “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 its success, for its growth.”

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