Small-Business Owners, Especially Spanish-Speaking Ones, Tap Thornton’s Alliance Center To Save Their Shops From Pandemic Losses

December 1, 2020
ALLIANCE-0CENTER-THORNTON-COVIDALLIANCE-0CENTER-THORNTON-COVIDHart Van Denburg/CPR News
From left, Robin Martinez, Andy Figueroa and Adriana Saenz Garcia meet inside Thornton's Alliance Business Assistance Center on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020.

Adriana Saenz Garcia has owned Divinas Hair Studio in Thornton for six years. Divinas — which means divine in English — is a special place that she’s dedicated to her mother, who died two years ago.

“It's a place where I want all the ladies to go and feel divine,” Saenz Garcia said.

Like many business owners, the coronavirus pandemic impacted Saenz Garcia financially and she had to close the salon for two months. 

“At the beginning, I was really afraid. I was really stressed,” she said. “My main concern, how am I going to do all the bills to continue with my rent?”

When it came time to reopen, some of her stylists decided not to come back. She said they didn’t think they would make enough money and they were worried about putting their own health at risk. Now it’s just her and her sister taking clients and running things.

With all of the lost business, she knew something had to change if Divinas was to survive the pandemic.

“At that time I was in need of marketing,” she said, unsure of where to start. “I needed help to promote my salon and get more clients.”

But then one day, someone came into her salon and told her about the Alliance Business Assistance Center in Thornton.

“That's when I took the courage to ask for help.”

The city of Thornton opened the resource center in mid-October after receiving federal aid through the CARES Act. Robin Martinez, the local business administrator who runs the center, said the goal is to provide free support to struggling businesses like Saenz Garcia’s.

“It was a bit of a no brainer that this is something that we really need and we need it now,” Martinez said. “Sometimes you got two people working from home, kids running in the background. They might need a quiet place to sit and work and hold a meeting and that’s what this is available for.”

Alliance was designed with COVID-19 restrictions in mind. People can get help virtually or in person. When they walk in, they’re greeted with a chime as the door swings open.

Office staff take people’s temperature and ask them to fill out a questionnaire about exposure to the coronavirus. They’re then able to take advantage of a workspace that’s clean, socially distanced and divided with plexiglass.

Business owners have access to education through free workshops and technology like laptops, Martinez said. Counselors are also available to advise business owners and help them apply for grants or other aid.

So far, Alliance has provided assistance to more than 50 businesses, primarily with less than five employees and minority-owned. More than $4 million in grants have been issued.

Although the workspace is located in Thornton, Martinez pointed out that it’s not exclusive to businesses in Adams County. She said the county has always had a gap in providing resources like this to small mom and pop shops, but especially to Spanish-speakers.

“This is a community that's been underserved and the resources have not been as available for them as we provide an English speaking,” she said. “We definitely see that they're taking advantage of this and they appreciate the opportunity to have bilingual staff.”

Mi Casa Resource Center and other partners work with Alliance and provide feedback about how the center can support traditionally underrepresented communities.

Andy Figueroa, with Mi Casa, is one bilingual business consultant who helps connect Latinx business owners with the center's resources. He said some of the people he works with are afraid to ask the city for help. They’re worried about things like language barriers.

“They thought that the grants were not available to them,” Figueroa said. “We had to be proactive and go out to the community and talk to the business owners and say, ‘Hey, you don't need to be documented. You don't have to have a legal residence in the United States to access these funds.’” 

His goal is to educate and motivate business owners with the tools they need to grow.

“The COVID-19 crisis forced us, not only as organizations but the business owners out there to become businesses of the 21st century by using different tools.”

During some workshops, Alliance teaches people how to use social media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to market themselves. Adriana Saenz Garcia, the owner of Divinas Hair Studio, said she’ll use these skills even when things get back to normal.

“There are so many things that I didn't know that they've been helping me and teaching me,” Saenz Garcia said.

Counselors also helped her apply for and receive a $20,000 grant. Although surging coronavirus cases and new restrictions have forced Saenz Garcia to book fewer clients, she said the grant will help her pay her operating costs for the next three months.

In the meantime, she wants small Latinx business owners like herself to know they’re not alone.

“This is actually the first place that I feel comfortable as a Hispanic to come,” she said. “Be humble and have the courage to ask for help.”

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