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Serving to Oakland’s immigrant enterprise house owners get on-line—and get to the following stage

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For Virginia Castillo, proprietor of Nena’s Hair Studio on Worldwide Boulevard in Fruitvale, opening her personal enterprise in 2015 was a dream come true. “Since I used to be 9 years previous, I’ve had scissors in my fingers. I didn’t discover them, they discovered me,” Castillo mentioned in Spanish. “I haven’t gotten bored, I nonetheless find it irresistible.”

Since she opened Nena’s Hair Studio, Castillo had been working her small store by herself. Issues bought worse when the pandemic grounded each day life to a halt, and hair salons have been hit onerous. Beneath state COVID pointers, cosmetic-based companies have been totally closed till January of final yr. “I assumed to myself, ‘What am I going to do as a result of now I have to maintain the store open, however I nonetheless can’t work,” she mentioned.

Hair solon proprietor Virginia Castillo begins slicing her husband’s hair earlier than her store opens for the day. Credit score: Amir Aziz |

Then by some volunteer work that Castillo was doing within the neighborhood round meals insecurity, she met an worker of The Unity Council, a nonprofit group based mostly in Fruitvale. The nonprofit provides a wide range of providers to enterprise house owners, housing tenants, and households dwelling in Oakland, primarily within the Fruitvale space.

“They advised me to not shut my enterprise and that if I didn’t have cash to pay lease, somebody from their group would assist me fill out grant purposes and their attorneys may assist me negotiate with the property proprietor if I had points,” Castillo mentioned.

In November, Unity Council expanded this work by launching a program referred to as Onward Oakland: Adelante Oakland. Castillo was made conscious of this chance. “Now that I’m working with them, I noticed I didn’t do a great job of opening my enterprise. However now I do know what to do,” she mentioned.

Respiration new life into lifelong goals

La Nieta de Pancho, a retail retailer positioned at 3300 Worldwide Boulevard in Fruitvale. Credit score: Amir Aziz |

Onward Oakland: Adelante Oakland is a bilingual program created by The Unity Council to assist small enterprise house owners with advertising, on-line gross sales, authorized providers, accounting, and growing a marketing strategy. This system is open to all companies in Oakland and translation providers can be found in Spanish, Vietnamese, Mam, Tagalog, and Arabic.

To date, about 100 companies have utilized this system and stuffed out the Onward Oakland: Adelante Oakland consumption kind asking for technical help. It has seen extra participation amongst Fruitvale’s Latino companies, in addition to Black and Vietnamese enterprise house owners within the neighboring “Little Saigon” space of East Lake. At present, Onward Oakland: Adelante Program is funded by a grant by Wells Fargo, and is about to run till the tip of subsequent yr.

Onward Oakland: Adelante Oakland is supposed to be a response to COVID-19’s lasting influence on small companies. An enormous focus is instructing enterprise house owners methods to market themselves on-line and on social media. Many immigrant-owned companies in areas like Fruitvale presently have little to no on-line presence. “We wish to assist the companies transfer in direction of the twenty first century, however we additionally wanted to determine methods to maintain them going now,” Mayra Chavez, enterprise supervisor for The Unity Council, mentioned.

Contributors can learn to use a pc and laptop computer, arrange an e-mail account—one thing Castillo realized by a coaching workshop—and past.  Contributors get assist establishing and managing social media accounts, or verifying their enterprise on Yelp and different e-commerce platforms.

Guadalupe Garcia, proprietor of La Nieta De Pancho, a spice store and retail retailer positioned in Fruitvale. Garcia runs the store together with her husband Rodolfo Baron.

Different companies, akin to La Nieta de Pancho, a retail retailer on Worldwide Boulevard, wanted assist beginning a enterprise, akin to making use of for permits. Rodolfo Baron and his spouse Guadalupe Garcia opened their retailer final yr after working as road distributors promoting a wide range of items all through Oakland.

At La Nieta de Pancho, they promote every little thing from dried chiles to sweet to an assortment of spices. Baron and Garcia know methods to promote and make individuals really feel at residence of their retailer, however their restricted English abilities made it tough for them to navigate Oakland’s enterprise software course of. Because of what they realized from Adelante, they have been capable of fill out the mandatory permits to formally open their enterprise. “If I knew methods to do it, I’d do it on my own, however we wanted the assistance,” Baron mentioned.

For Castillo, studying fundamental digital abilities like utilizing e-mail and a pc has breathed life again into her lifelong dream of proudly owning a salon. It’s a dream that’s already skilled main bumps within the street, effectively earlier than the pandemic. She had at all times wished to turn into a hairstylist and knew methods to minimize hair, however for a few years couldn’t apply for a cosmetology license as a consequence of her undocumented standing. “I needed to take jobs cleansing homes and taking good care of youngsters as a result of I couldn’t turn into a hairstylist but,” Castillo mentioned in Spanish.

Virginia Castillo, proprietor of Nena’s Hair Studio at 3451 Worldwide Boulevard, shows her certificates inside her store. Credit score: Amir Aziz |

In 2014, Castillo was lastly capable of acquire a piece allow by Obama-era immigration insurance policies that allowed family members of residents to take action. “As soon as I obtained my license, I attempted making use of to salons however couldn’t discover a regular job,” Castillo mentioned. “So I made a decision to open up my little salon.”

By the point the pandemic hit in March of 2020, she had grown uninterested in managing every little thing herself with little development in her buyer base. “I used to be going to shut my store in February [of 2020] as a result of I used to be working on my own and I used to be solely making a little bit bit of cash, some for me and sufficient to maintain the store open. My husband advised me, ‘Wait a little bit longer, you’re going to be okay,’” she mentioned. By Onward Oakland, her store is now listed on-line, and has an official work e-mail. She hopes Unity Council will discover a approach to maintain it going past subsequent yr.

Rodolfo Baron of La Nieta De Pancho and his spouse Guadalupe Garcia are additionally pleased with the allowing help they obtained and would now prefer to get assist establishing an internet site for his or her retailer. “I need everybody to see the totally different sorts of spices we provide earlier than coming into the store,” Baron mentioned. “I believe that will assist.”

At present, this system is about to finish subsequent yr. Mayra Chavez of Unity Council mentioned that whereas Onward Oakland: Adelante Oakland would possibly stop being a proper program, their group will proceed to supply the identical digital literacy coaching and workshops and likewise broaden their providers.

“Our providers rely upon the wants of the companies as a result of this pandemic is altering, and so do the wants of enterprise house owners,” Chavez mentioned. She says she needs to proceed to get extra immigrant-owned companies concerned. Alongside together with her work with the Unity Council, she helps her mom run the Mexican restaurant La Huarache Azteca, and he or she’s seen firsthand the advantages of getting a web-based presence.

“As somebody who grew up seeing my mother and father run the enterprise, us 2nd-generation enterprise house owners know the significance of getting a enterprise prepared for the twenty first century,” Chavez mentioned, “and that’s what we’re attempting to do right here.”

La Tiendita de Pancho is at 3300 Worldwide Boulevard. Open on a regular basis from 9 a.m- 5 p.m, or from 10 a.m-6 p.m (hours fluctuate). Nena’s Hair Salon is at 3451 Worldwide Boulevard. Open Mon. by Sat. from 9 a.m- 6 p.m.

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