In Clearwater, Latino business owners are feeling the effects of the pandemic

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The man knocked on the doors of the neighborhood, making a circuit between the duplexes facing each other.

“Good evening,” Pablo Trejo said after a woman opened the door. People had slowly started to gather in front of his van as he knocked on doors. In the back of his van were tamales, conchas, donuts and many varieties of pan dulce.

“Good evening,” she replied.

” Do you want some bread ? ” he asked him.

Trejo leaves his store, Panaderia Mi Mexico, in the evening and spends a few hours driving through the neighborhoods of Clearwater looking for more customers to buy his pastries. He started working as a baker during the 2008 financial crisis. There was no work, he says, and he decided to work for friends who sold bread. Now, with his own bakery, Trejo has had to survive another financial crisis – and support his employees – relying on its baked goods.

Freshly baked pastries are on display at Panaderia Mi Mexico on Monday in Clearwater. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Trejo opened its store months before the coronavirus pandemic caused widespread closures across the United States. He tried to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan, but said he couldn’t get one because his business was too young. Now, to be able to pay all his expenses, he also sells his products in the street.

“Sales aren’t the same,” Trejo said one August evening at his store in Clearwater as he stood in front of a fan, covered in sweat, as the scent of concha wafted through the store. After the pandemic, business has been harder to find, he said, but when he goes to neighborhoods to sell his wares, he can make between $ 500 and $ 600 overnight.

According to United States Hispanic Chamber of CommerceThere are more than 4.7 million Hispanic-owned businesses in the United States, and these businesses contribute more than $ 800 billion to the economy each year.

But the five industries most affected by the pandemic account for nearly half of Latin American business revenues, according to a McKinsey Report. These sectors include hospitality, retail, transportation, construction and an “other” catch-all category of various industries. In Clearwater, on a stretch of Drew Street where many businesses are located owned by Mexican immigrants, business owners are feeling the effects.

Since 2018, Mario Hernandez has maintained La Huasteca Mexican Food & Produce. With higher unemployment in his community since COVID, many of his clients are no longer coming, he said, and others are afraid of getting sick. He said he asked his brother for a loan to survive the pandemic.

“It affected us so much,” he said from his store. “It affected the whole world.”

Mario Hernandez, 42, owner of La Huasteca Mexican Food and Produce, poses for a portrait at his store Monday in Clearwater.
Mario Hernandez, 42, owner of La Huasteca Mexican Food and Produce, poses for a portrait at his store Monday in Clearwater. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Salinas Produce owner Erica Ventura Catalan said some of her customers go to department stores to shop when they have food stamps.

“With the pandemic, it has gone down a bit,” she said. The store’s main source of income right now is its hot food, she said.

As a researcher for the Urban Institute, a non-partisan think tank in Washington, DC, Jorge González-Hermoso examined the impact of the pandemic on Latin American businesses.

Latinos are under-represented in business ownership, he said. Even though they represent 16% of the adult population, they only own 6% of businesses that have employees, González-Hermoso said.

Latino-owned businesses have been more vulnerable during the pandemic as they are concentrated in accommodation and food services, he said. And, according to González-Hermoso, many Latino owners businesses are new.

“In terms of access to capital, it is more difficult for them to access loans to small businesses because they are younger businesses, they are smaller businesses,” he said. Additionally, many Latino business owners do not have ties to financial institutions that can help them with PPP loans, González-Hermoso said.

For 12 years José Hernandez and his wife, Josefina De La Cruz, saved money. They had worked as restaurant workers, but wanted to run their own business. In February 2020, they made their dream come true and opened Taqueria Viva Mexico. But two weeks later, the pandemic hit Tampa Bay and sales plummeted.

“People have stopped coming,” Hernandez said. “So I don’t know, unfortunately, how busy we should be or what kind of business we’re supposed to be doing. “

Jose Hernandez, co-owner of Taqueria Viva Mexico, poses for a portrait on Monday, October 4, 2021 in Clearwater.
Jose Hernandez, co-owner of Taqueria Viva Mexico, poses for a portrait on Monday, October 4, 2021 in Clearwater. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Hernandez said he was unable to get a PPP loan because his business was too new. Before the pandemic, it started working at 4 a.m., he said, but now it opens at 11 a.m.

A lot of people are out of jobs and can’t afford the luxury of eating out in restaurants, Hernandez said. But more so, he said, the red tide had an impact on his business.

“Some people come and say… ‘We have to go because the red tide is too high and we can’t stay here,” Hernandez said.

González-Hermoso, of the Urban Institute, said that in order to help Latino-owned businesses it is important to expand access to capital, raise awareness of aid programs and support nonprofits. that help Latino business owners.

Even though Latin American businesses have faced some challenges, their numbers have grown since the Great Recession, González-Hermoso said. Between 2007 and 2012, Latino-owned businesses grew by 46%, while the total number of U.S. businesses only increased by 2%.

“There is an entrepreneurial spirit within the Latino community,” said González-Hermoso.

A Mexican flag flies across the storefront of a business nestled among other businesses along Drew Street, an area teeming with Latino-owned businesses, on Monday in Clearwater.
A Mexican flag flies across the storefront of a business nestled among other businesses along Drew Street, an area teeming with Latino-owned businesses, on Monday in Clearwater. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]


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