Hispanics rising

The Latino share of local business is growing right along with the population

Vilma Castenada of the El Tapatio Market folds T-shirts, which she gives away to her very best customers.

Vilma Castenada of the El Tapatio Market folds T-shirts, which she gives away to her very best customers.

Photo By David Calvert

Vilma Castaneda, co-owner of the El Tapatio Market on South Wells Avenue, calmly stands smiling behind the counter. “Can I help you?” she asks the man, glancing at the basket he carries filled with green, red and white tissue paper and candy.

“Actually, I came here to offer you something,” the blond-haired, blue-eyed man responds. “I came to see if you are interested in ordering our camote [Mexican candy] assortment for your store.”

Willing to listen a little longer, Castaneda asks, “What kind of camote is it exactly, and how much?”

The loquacious salesman lists off his candy assortment, from calabasa (pumpkin) to cocado (coconut), while adding he can have the candy individually wrapped and set up in a nice display basket. Castaneda takes his business card and will call if she’s interested. She wants to discuss it with the store’s co-owner, her husband, Dimas.

El Tapatio is just one of 563 Hispanic-owned businesses in the Truckee Meadows identified in a recently completed report that examines the Hispanic economy.

The Reno-Sparks Hispanic Business Report indicates the Hispanic population is thriving both in numbers and business growth. According to the report, which was produced by the University of Nevada, Reno and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Northern Nevada, the 1990-2000 Hispanic population growth rate of 9.5 percent was more than double the 3.9 percent rate of non-Hispanics.

The Hispanic market includes retail operations, carnicerías specializing in meat, panaderías specializing in bakery goods, floral shops, jewelry stores and mercados selling everything from CDs to ice cream bars called paletas.

Hispanic businesses are often run differently than the typical corporate business that has flooded the Truckee Meadows in recent years. Most employ family members, and nearly 90 percent are family owned. The report also points out that only 18 percent of the 183 Hispanic businesses surveyed used bank financing to start up. Most used personal savings or loans from friends and family members.

Among business owners, women entrepreneurs are common and increasingly bridging the gap between men and women in the business world. Women owned 26 percent of the businesses surveyed. Along the South Wells Avenue corridor, women own 55 percent of the small businesses.

One-third of the businesses are retail, which perhaps can be explained by the emphasis the Hispanic culture places on presentation and appearance. Celebrations such as baptisms, communions, quinceañeras (girls’ 15th birthday parties) and weddings typically require ornate clothing, such as a vibrant satin dress for a quinceañera or a lacy, detailed dress for a first communion. Even popular footwear, cowboy boots for example, carry a hefty price tag. The report says that Hispanic households spend nearly $350 more a year than non-Hispanics on apparel.

These small businesses still lag in attracting the non-Hispanic community. Forty-one percent of small-business owners said fewer than half their customers were Hispanic, which still puts the percentage of Hispanics in their customer base far ahead of its presence in the population. (About a fifth of the population of Washoe County is Hispanic, and it’s growing faster than the national average.) A third of Hispanic-owned businesses say 90 percent-plus of their customers are Latino.

One big obstacle to expanding beyond a mostly Hispanic customer base is that 47 percent of the business owners in the survey say they rely principally on the Spanish language in their dealings with the public. That means nearly half of the area’s Hispanic businesspeople rely almost entirely on Latino customers.

UNR business administration specialist Mike Reed says the businesses can expand their customer bases with marketing and business networking.

Many of these businesses don’t have a lot of ready capital for marketing efforts. Reed says they can make up for that with trade-outs with media entities and networking through the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Selling trade-outs (essentially a form of barter, exchanging products or services for advertising) to broadcasting stations and newspapers, Reed says, will require a certain sophistication and business networking.

“It’s going to be a function of the strength of the relationships that people have, which is why participation in the Hispanic Chamber is going to be so absolutely critical,” he says.

Reed says the Hispanic Chamber, under Executive Director Eduardo Wagner, is a sophisticated operation: “I have a lot of faith in Eduardo. He’s a really good guy, and he’s reached out to the business community already pretty substantially.”

Hispanic businesses are increasingly visible. Some shopping areas like Sierra Center and Sterling Village are predominantly ethnic, with Hispanic firms leading the way.

The report further says that patrons purchased $13 million in food and drink from Hispanic restaurants in Reno-Sparks in 2002. An even broader statistic involves the spending power of Hispanics—$422 million left in stores by Latino customers in 2002.

“It is a dream that all Latinos share, a dream of owning your own business,” says one business owner interviewed in the report.

The small-run business model seems to work best for most Hispanic businesses. Business owners see their window of opportunity and don’t seem to have a lot of trouble opening it. Vilma Castaneda, for one, has had opportunity come to her doors and step right up to her counter.

News editor Dennis Myers contributed to this story.