La Comunidad: Latino-owned businesses face challenges, find successes
June 17, 2010
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. – On shelves behind the counter at the Lindo Michoacan store, two youth soccer trophies coexist with lighters and boxes of Marlboro Reds. Above the shelves, a plaque notes that “Dios bendice este negocio” – God blesses this business. A talk show plays on Univision, and owner Rosa Villagomez sits at the register as customers stop by.
That is the scene on an April morning at the family owned business on Tanager Street, where Villagomez, a U.S. citizen who was born in Mexico, has operated her Mexican foods and gifts store since 1994.
“It was difficult because we truly started from nothing,” Villagomez said in an interview in Spanish. “It was well tough to start.”
Villagomez and her then-husband received a $5,000 loan from a goods supplier in Reno, which helped their business get off the ground.
“The truth – we worked very hard. It was difficult, but we’ve done well,” she said.
Washoe County does not offer business licensing forms in Spanish, said Karin Kremers of the Business License office in Reno, nor does that office attempt to draw in Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs. Still, businesses owned by Latinos whose native language isn’t English exist in the Tahoe Basin. Though those business owners find some initial difficulties in starting a business, they’ve found some success, too.
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Even though she didn’t have much to start out with, Villagomez said her biggest advantage was having legal status to live and work in the U.S.
“Thanks to God, we were already legal here. It’s an advantage that we don’t have that problem,” she said. “Many people aren’t going to start a business because they don’t have papers.”
A few years after founding her business in Incline, Villagomez got divorced. Now, she runs the store with Rafael Mondragon, who she married two years ago, and her four children, who range in age from 23 to 7-year-old Samantha, whose two soccer trophies reside in the store. Customers of all types frequent the store, she said, and sometimes she senses a bit of racism when people walk into the store unexpectedly.
“Yes, sometimes I notice it. But there are Americans who come into the store, happy, saying, ‘Oh, how nice,'” Villagomez said.
Despite the occasional issue, Villagomez said she likes living and working in the basin, and people have been nice and receptive to her business and her family.
“I love it. It’s beautiful,” she said. “I’m so used to it. We all already know almost everyone.”
In the Village Market shopping center down the street, Luz Maria Bernal has run Nuestro Sueno Mexican Store for five years. After living in the area and working for three years as a custodian at Incline High School, she thought she saw an opportunity.
“I watched all the Mexicans going to Village Market, the Latinos,” she said in Spanish. “So I asked my husband, ‘why don’t we put a Mexican store on that corner?'”
Then, luck began coming Bernal’s way, as she was able to secure a space for the store, find goods for the store and then find success with customers.
“(My husband) came and he said ‘Wow!’ He never thought I would be able to do it,” Bernal said.
Nuestro Sueno’s success inspired Bernal to found two other businesses in the area, including a clothing store called Fashion Cute for You and a restaurant in the Village Center called La Mujarra Feliz. But neither of those businesses were able to catch on and Bernal closed both, with the restaurant closing last year because of the economic downturn.
“It was horrible, so we closed before throwing more money down the tubes,” she said.