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

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Little Village. It's the beating heart of Chicago's Mexican community.

"My father opened this location up September 16, 1977. It's going to be 44 years. The same location here in La Villita," said Laura Gutierrez, Owner of Nueveo Leon Restaurant.

With revenues exceeding $900 million a year, this 2-mile stretch of 26th street has historically been one of the city's highest tax revenue generators, And yet, it's also true that Latino-owned businesses now stretch far and wide across the city.

"There's about 80,000 Latino businesses in the City of Chicago, statewide we have 120,000," said Jaime di Paulo, president and CEO of Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

And it's not just restaurants and quincenañera shops either. Latino business owners are in every facet of the economy, locally and nationally.

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According to United States Census data in 2018 Hispanic-owned businesses made up about 5.8% of all businesses, employing approximately 3 million people.

"We don't get the credit we deserve. We do get the credit that we're hard workers and that we can be cheap labor, however, we need to be able to be recognized and looked at as a class," Luis Centeno, Fit-Results Gym

Luis Centeno is the owner of Fit-Results Gym, with outposts in Logan Square and the South Loop. But it hasn't been easy. Centeno has a criminal record. Unable to get a job, and wanting to start anew...working for himself was his only option.

"I started doing classes outside in the park and trying to advertise it by word of mouth and social media and some ads and it went from one to two to ten and so on and so forth until I was able to lease out some shared space and from there every year it just continued to grow," Centeno.

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That is, until the pandemic. Exact figures are not yet available but it's estimated some 20% of all Chicago businesses, Latino-owned and otherwise have gone under. It's why, access to funding, continues to be the biggest challenge. Many turning to their local chambers of commerce for help.

"We assist businesses to stay afloat. We assist them with technical assistance. We help them with the funding they need to survive," di Paulo said.

For Nuevo León's Laura Gutierrez, who's still struggling to balance skyrocketing food costs, along with staffing shortages, giving up is not an option. Firm in her belief that hard work and a clientele, built over the last 44 years will carry her, and her employees forward.

"I'm proud to say we're an immigrant community. They are my second family. At the end of the day, we're just moving forward. 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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