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Stronger Houston: Resources available for local Hispanic-owned businesses hit hard by pandemic

As the coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19 cases continue to take a toll on communities across the country, many businesses are also feeling the impact, including Hispanic-owned businesses in the Houston area that are doing what they can to weather the storm.

One such business is the Taqueria El Torito in Humble, which has been in the community for almost seven years.

“Right now a lot of people are struggling to get business and customers,” said Jordi Aviles, whose family owns the Taqueria El Torito food truck.

Aviles said over the last year, the business has been down by a lot, leaving his family doing all they can to bring in customers.

Back in September, the family took to Twitter to drum up business. The post was re-tweeted over 10,000 times and the business had a turn-out the next few weeks like nothing they had seen in quite some time.

“My dad said he said got here like at 6 or ‪7 a.m. and there was already a line,” Aviles said. “He said he was happy that he saw that many people.”

Gabriela Smith is also familiar with the economic downturn facing businesses.

She started Big State Construction company about three years ago doing residential and commercial construction across the area, mainly focusing on renovations.

Although the year started well, things for her also took a turn in the middle of the pandemic.

“I think it has been hard because it’s something new for all of us,” Smith said. “COVID-19 happened in March and that paused our business, so we had to stop for at least two months.”

Although things are starting to pick back up, Smith said that business for her this year has been off by about 60%. She is now having to think outside of the box and strategize on how to adapt the business.

More than that, she also said accessing available resources has been critical, including help from the Small Business Administration.

“They provided assistance financially to cover a loan, an existing loan that we had through them, so they covered that loan,” said Smith.

Another avenue Smith got help from was through a $2,000 grant from the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce after going through its Business Institute Program.

Dr. Laura Murillo, the President & CEO of the Houston Hispanic Chamber, said a donor provided the organization with resources to provide grants.

Murillo said many other businesses also took part in the Paycheck Protection Program when it was available through the SBA.

According to Murillo, the past few months have certainly been tough for many businesses, even though help is out there.

“Businesses are taking it day by day,” she said. “We’re finding that it’s very difficult for them to make long-term plans because we don’t know what lies ahead.”

Over the summer, the chamber partnered with the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs to conduct a survey specifically about the impact of COVID-19 on Hispanic Entrepreneurs in Houston.

Based on the numbers, more than half are expecting sales to be much lower overall than in 2019.

Pablo Pinto, the Director of Center for Public Policy at Hobby School of Public Affairs at University of Houston said, “The main takeaway as expressed in the response is the uncertainty about the future of economic activity.”

Despite the concerns about the uncertainty though, many have expressed hope that things will turn around in the future, especially with the possibility of COVID-19 vaccines on the horizon.

For now, business leaders are urging those who may be on the brink to go on-line and take advantage of any and every resource available.

“At the end of the day, let’s be safe,” Murillo said. “We can make it. Houston is resilient. Let’s get through this together.”

Many business owners said they are anxiously waiting to get back to business as usual.

“I think COVID-19 has taught me, more than anything, that it’s not a one-man show,” Smith said. “It’s a team effort.”

“We’d be glad if you came to support us and other small businesses around here,” explained Aviles.

For more information about the resources available to business owners, be sure to visit Houston Hispanic Chamber’s website and the SBA website. For a closer look at the survey done by the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs, visit UH website.

As published by KPRC