South Shore latino businesses growing |

South Shore latino businesses growing

Susan Wood

Reflecting a surge in population growth, Hispanic-owned businesses in the United States have topped 1 million in the decade, according to U.S. Census figures released a few weeks ago.

And Lake Tahoe companies ranging from food service to cleaning businesses have contributing to that 1.2 million wave.

Armando Garcia, 38, of South Lake Tahoe, reflected Thursday on his own success that started with his days of owning a store in Mexico.

One of three owners of Plaza Tapatia market and Los Mexicanos Restaurant Taqueria took that experience and opened a small market at the Town and Country Center four years ago.

Garcia crammed what produce he could in about 120 square feet, but he soon discovered his customers wanted more. Some shoppers even recalled those days in Lake Tahoe years ago, when Mexican chiles were unavailable at many of the existing markets.

Six months after opening, the entrepreneur moved to a building on Herbert Avenue that’s at least six times the size, filling it up fast with a smorgasbord of items. They now range from Latino-oriented compact discs and magazines to cookies and Carne Asada seasonings.

Garcia, with co-owners Victor Mora and Andres Caro, opened the restaurant next door a year later. Then, they opened a bakery. Garcia has since noticed at least a 20 percent growth in business.

He’s considering expanding to a larger location if the right opportunity arises.

“Every year, we have something new,” he said.

And the regulars respond.

Garcia recalled a customer who he thanked for shopping. She, in turn, thanked him for being there.

Maria Perez has come to the market since the year it opened.

“Everything is much better than the other stores,” she said, citing the quality of the meat sold fresh at the deli counter.

Garcia started with two butchers and later expanded the staff to 22 people.

After four years in business, the first Hispanic-owned market called Spanish Groceries in South Lake Tahoe met the chopping block since the 1990 Census came out. But three more filled its place. These include Plaza Tapatia, Mexicano Meat Market and Mi Pueblo.

“There used to be only one (specialty) grocery store in town. And then, boom, they all took off,” said Josefina Solano, who serves on the newly formed South Lake Tahoe Latino Affairs Commission.

Solano, who works for El Dorado County Health Department, has noticed a surge in Hispanics living at the lake who have decided to settle down here and take the big plunge of responsibility.

Is the root of this trend related to the demographic’s population growth or the openness for many to step off the cliff?

“I think it’s a little of both actually,” said Gabriela Inigo, who also serves on the commission. “Now in Tahoe, the businesses are doing wonderfully.”

Iris Capa, who owns ITC Computer Services here, has found that catering to these businesses has turned out to be a lucrative business for her. But she’s not running her accounting firm with the idea of getting rich, Capa said.

She’s fulfilling a niche that has a hint of civic responsibility.

“That’s why I cater to the Hispanic community – because they don’t know where to go,” she said.

Much of Capa’s work revolves around consulting prospective business owners.

But sometimes they think money is going to fall in their pockets,” she said.

They look to her as an example.

“I tell them, ‘I can take all the vacation in the world, but I have to open my doors if I want to survive,’ ” she said. During tax season, Capa works between 10 to 12 hours a day – much to the dismay of her husband, she said.

“Everybody has a dream of being self-employed,” Capa said. “And they just don’t want to work for somebody else.”

League of United Latin American Citizens Director Brent Wilkes cited a number of factors leading to the growth of Hispanic-owned businesses, employing 1.3 million people.

Beyond the sheer numbers and willingness to use their experience to profit from, Wilkes mentioned the cultural aspect.

“There’s a strong entrepreneurial culture you can trace from Latin American roots,” he said from his Washington, D.C., office. “There’s not a safety net. You either work or you starve to death. I think that comes with their ‘can-do’ spirit.”

He also attributed the growth to immigration laws that favor opening businesses versus working for someone else.

For instance, it’s much easier for an undocumented worker to get an employment number than a social security number.

“The way they’re written encourages growth of small businesses,” Wilkes said. “Many have done well and expanded.”

According to the Census Bureau, the largest number of Hispanic-owned firms consisted of sole proprietorships and unincorporated businesses owned by individuals.

California led the pack of states in the number of Hispanic-owned firms with 336,400. That’s 28 percent of the total in the nation.

In South Lake Tahoe, the Hispanic population grew from 4,003 to 6,294, census stats indicate. Although the reporting categories have changed somewhat, the increase appears in line with a 9.4 percent growth in overall population at the lake.

While much has been made of the fact that Hispanics increased their numbers in the U.S. to 35 million, it appears the nation’s 2010 head count to reflect the decade of the Asian population boom, The Associated Press reported Thursday.

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