Across the country, women have been at the forefront of small business growth, displaying a creativity and entrepreneurial spirit that has made a significant impact on the economic vitality of communities everywhere.
This is evident right here in the Bronx, home of the city’s largest Latino population. On Jan. 27, a diverse group of Latina small business owners who have been thriving in the Bronx participated in a virtual forum presented by the Bronx Chamber of Commerce.
Hosted by Lisa Sorin, president of the Chamber, she was joined by moderator, Lourdes Zapata, president and CEO of SOBRO and panelists; Tiffany Gomez, Gomez Design Studio; Haydee Longmore, Haylo 3D/4D/5D Imaging; Noelle Santos, The LitBar; and Rosa Garcia, Mott Haven Bar & Grill.
“Tonight’s conversation is really about learning how they are so powerful and what makes them successful,” Sorin said.
Zapata, who has been at SOBRO for 20 years, praised the ladies for their hard work and accomplishments.
“You each in your own right are masters in their industry,” she said. “There’s nothing sexy about business ownership. You ladies demonstrate the hustle.”
Starting a business
Gomez, who makes furniture and art from recycled materials, was born and raised in the Bronx. However, she felt like the borough was behind on certain things, including design.
After going through a divorce, being pregnant and quitting her nine to five job, she decided it was time for a change.
“I started my business right after I had my son,” she explained.
Santos owns the only bookstore in the Bronx and told the panelists she used to measure her success based on how far she got form the borough.
It wasn’t until she heard about Barnes and Noble closing in 2016 in Bay Plaza that she realized how important a place like hers is.
“It’s going to take people like me to invest in our community,” Santos commented. “Book selling was not my career. It just kind of happened to me.”
Garcia began working at the Mott Haven Bar & Grill in 2007 and six years later became the owner.
She went from waiting tables to running an entire restaurant. In fact, she even learned how to file her sales taxes and do the books all on her own.
“I just love the Mott Haven community and how close we are to each other,” she stated.
Keys to Success
According to Gomez, two reasons she has done well are because of her support system and social media.
“I don’t think my business would be where it is without it (social media),” she explained. “It’s a great way to engage with your audience.”
The four women agreed that education is important, but it isn’t imperative for all business owners. Garcia pointed out if someone was to work in a restaurant it’s about people skills, while if pursuing a medical career then of course school is needed.
“There are a lot of things I’ve learned in college that I’m not using in my business now,” she remarked. “When you are from the Bronx you really have to have the street smarts.”
Gomez shares her sentiments.
“I learned the creative stuff in school, but life taught me other things,” she said.
As Latina women from the Bronx being a successful entrepreneur is quite an achievement, Santos explained. She said being an entrepreneur may not make one wealthy, but there are many people with money who are not happy.
Through crowd funding, she has crafted quite a successful business.
“I still have not put a dollar of my own money into it,” she stressed.
The Lit Bar was only 10 months old when the pandemic forced it to close in March.
Santos made sure to support her employees as she found them jobs at other restaurants, hired a third party to help ship books and pivoted to virtual events.
“When we first shut down I was paralyzed,” she recalled.
The coronavirus was actually a blessing in disguise for the Mott Haven Bar and Grill. According to Garcia, she has made more money this past year than she did in the past because she has been making hundreds of meals for essential workers.
If it wasn’t for all of this business, profits would be down about 20%.
However, officials from the city constantly coming to check on every little thing in the eatery is a hassle, she said.
“I just wish they gave us somewhat of a break here,” he said.
Failure comes with running a business, Gomez said. She noted that during the past four years she has thought about closing many times.
Garcia stressed how important it is not to second guess oneself when launching a company.
“Move in silence and stop talking to weak individuals,” she said.