Chicago Latino-owned businesses stay afloat despite raging COVID-19 pandemic

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CHICAGO (WLS) – Small village. It is the beating heart of the Mexican community in Chicago.

“My dad opened this place until September 16, 1977. It’s going to be 44 years. The same place here in La Villita,” said Laura Gutierrez, owner of Nueveo Leon restaurant.

With revenues exceeding $ 900 million per year, this 2 mile stretch of 26th Street has always been one of the city’s biggest tax revenue generators.

“There are about 80,000 Latin American businesses in the city of Chicago, we have 120,000 statewide,” said Jaime di Paulo, president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of the Illinois.

And it’s not just restaurants and quincenañera stores, either. Latino business owners are in all facets of the economy, locally and nationally.

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According to 2018 United States Census data, Hispanic-owned businesses accounted for about 5.8% of all businesses, employing about 3 million people.

“We don’t get the credit we deserve. We get the credit that we are hard workers and can be cheap labor, however, we have to be able to be recognized and seen as a class,” Luis Centeno, Gym Fit-Results

Luis Centeno is the owner of Fit-Results Gym, with outposts in Logan Square and South Loop. But it was not easy. Centeno has a criminal record. Unable to find a job, and wanting to start over … working for himself was his only option.

“I started taking classes outside in the park and trying to advertise through word of mouth and social media and a few ads and it went from one to two to ten and so away until I could rent a shared space and from there every year it continued to grow, ”Centeno.

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That is to say until the pandemic. Exact numbers are not yet available, but it is estimated that about 20% of all businesses in Chicago, owned by Latinos and others, have gone bankrupt. This is why access to finance continues to be the biggest challenge. Many turn to their local chambers of commerce for help.

“We help companies stay afloat. We help them with technical assistance. We help them with the financing they need to survive,” said di Paulo.

For Laura Gutierrez of Nuevo León, who still struggles to balance rising food costs, as well as staff shortages, giving up isn’t an option. Firm in her conviction that hard work and a clientele built over the past 44 years will move her and her employees forward.

“I’m proud to say that we are an immigrant community. They are my second family. At the end of the day, we’re just moving on. As long as they let us work, that’s all we need to do. . We know how to do that, ”Gutierrez said.

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