Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Create opportunities in underserved communities

From left, Alex Horton, founder of the International District Economic Development Center, Carino Padilla, owner of Stretch Strength and Fitness, and Kim Obregon, owner of Mustard Seed Flowers. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / Journal)

Copyright © 2021

A formerly run-down mall near the International District in southeast Albuquerque is now buzzing with a new neighborhood flower shop and gym that opened last September amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The business hub near San Mateo and Copper, north of Central Avenue, was home to few micro-businesses when Mustard Seed Flowers and Stretch Strength & Fitness became neighboring neighbors there. The flower shop opened in an area of ​​3,000 square feet that had occupied a neighborhood grocery store years ago. And the gym moved into a long-abandoned, two-story bank building from the 1960s, which still has a vault inside and some colorful designs on the outside walls.

Until these stores arrived, the flow of customers in the few existing malls, which include a smokers’ shop, two other small retail stores, a massage parlor, and a hairdresser, was generally sporadic. But now business is booming with a fairly steady stream of flower shop and gym members exercising day and night in the 24-hour fitness center.

“Those rooms have been idle for so long,” said flower shop owner Kimberly Obregon, a first-time entrepreneur in the area. “When I moved in and remodeled this old neighborhood grocery store, I called it my ‘Fight Club Project’ because it looked like it. … There used to be a lot of crime around the mall, but now there is a lot of life here. “

Both Obregon and Cariño Padilla, who co-owns the gym with his fiancée and another investor, received significant support from the International District Economic Development Center, which was launched in 2019 to provide resources and support to emerging entrepreneurs and existing businesses in the area To make available.

“We helped both of them get it set up,” said development center founder and executive director Alex Horton. “This strip center had almost no activity before. But now, with these two new companies, there is a lot of hustle and bustle there. “

The fact that these startups could establish and thrive amid the pandemic shows the dynamic potential for entrepreneurial development in the International District, Horton said.

“There are so many enthusiastic people here who want to be entrepreneurs,” Horton told the Journal. “All you need is startup guidance and support to get started.”

Extended range

With the new Color Theory Coalition, Horton’s Development Center and other nonprofits working to build entrepreneurship and economic opportunity in the city’s underserved communities expect much more support, guidance, and access to capital for Albuquerque’s marginalized minorities.

The coalition, made up of nearly a dozen groups, brings together Albuquerque’s diverse nonprofit organizations in a concerted effort to share information about individual and community needs. They work collaboratively to connect existing and aspiring entrepreneurs with the multitude of resources that they collectively offer.

This could significantly expand the reach of Horton in the International District, an impoverished area that is home to much of the city’s Spanish-speaking immigrants. The district stretches roughly along Central Avenue east from San Mateo to Wyoming and south from Lomas to Gibson.

Two new “community navigators,” backed by a $ 1 million WK Kellogg Foundation grant, will help attract more people to the network, Horton said.

“The goal is to get more customers and companies on board to either help them get started or grow,” said Horton.

From food to film

Aside from the International District, the coalition can work through participating organizations such as the South Valley Economic Development Center, established in 2005 with support from Bernalillo County and the Rio Grande Economic Development Corp.

Kattia Rojas, owner of the Latin American / Costa Rican restaurant Buen Provecho Albuquerque in the El Vado Motel off Central, has a cup of Costa Rican coffee in her restaurant. (Courtesy of Kattia Rojas)

The center’s commercial kitchen, dubbed “The Mixing Bowl,” has spurred dozens of minority-owned food companies over the past 15 years. Many other companies have also started training and mentoring from the center, such as mortgage, video, HR, massage and printing companies.

Many food companies who graduated from The Mixing Bowl now operate in emerging business centers. These include food trucks stationed next to the Albuquerque BioPark and restaurants in the converted El Vado Motel next to the Botanical Gardens – a Route 66 landmark that’s now home to a mix of shops.

Kattia Rojas from Costa Rica, for example, founded her Latino food restaurant Buen Provecho Albuquerque in El Vado with her husband in 2018 after starting out at the Mixing Bowl. Buen Provecho – a Spanish version of the French phrase bon appetit – now employs 15 part-time workers, Rojas told the Journal.

“The South Valley Development Center opened the doors for us,” said Rojas. “We are now making around four times more sales than at the beginning. We are very busy. “

Youth development

Youngsters will also benefit from the resources and connections that Color Theory provides thanks to participation in the Siembra Leadership High School, a charter launched in Downtown Albuquerque in 2016 to provide alternative educational opportunities for young people through hands-on training in entrepreneurship and economic development Offer. Students learn through action, including the seniors’ efforts to build their own business or community project, said Jaqi Baldwin, Siembra’s executive director.

“These are young people who may not have done so well in other school situations,” Baldwin told the Journal. “They are primarily color students, like 85 to 95% of them every year.”

The main goal is to provide students with skills and knowledge that can help them earn an income after leaving school, Baldwin said. This is critical in view of the excessive school dropout rate in Albuquerque, which has limited job opportunities for many young adults.

“Color theory is in line with the school’s goal of learning about larger social justice issues with an emphasis on entrepreneurship and economic development for underinvested communities,” said Baldwin. “It can connect our young people to a very strong network of non-profit organizations.”

Around 30% of Siembra graduates continue to run the companies they founded at school after they graduate.

Angel Sanchez, for example, has built a successful resale business of rare or “collectable” sneakers that some consumers are coveted by. Sanchez, 19, has sold almost 1,000 pairs of sneakers via social media marketing since graduating from Siembra in 2020 and plans to open a small stationary location this fall.

“It was my dream to open a sneaker store,” said Sanchez. “To do this at my age is a blessing.”

Justice in view

It is critical that the startup ecosystem aggressively expand into underserved communities to build the local economy, said Agnes Noonan, executive director of the Women’s Economic Self Sufficiency Team (WESST), which helped found the Color Theory coalition. Small businesses are the backbone of the state and national economies, and the underinvested population makes up about 60% of these businesses.

“If we want a more equitable distribution of wealth and economic opportunity, we need to account for at least 60% of the population, who are mostly colored, women and other marginalized groups,” Noonan told the Journal. “Many of them are in the older neighborhoods of Albuquerque. We need to invest in them because they are an important part of the Albuquerque economy, the state economy and beyond. “

In the International District, Horton has helped aspiring entrepreneurs start 16 businesses since the development center opened in 2019. These include food trucks, online retailers, and the flower shop and gym that now operate in the San Mateo and Copper mall.

Carino Padilla, co-owner of Stretch Strength and Fitness, is seen at the gym in San Mateo NE. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / magazine)

Some offer families a secondary income to better support their household. Others, like the strip mall startups, provide stable income for the entrepreneurs themselves and two employees who now work in those companies.

And they contribute to urban revitalization, said Horton.

“If we can only have two brick and mortar stores a year like the one in the mall, that’s great,” said Horton. “It provides new income for local residents while repairing some abandoned business centers and bringing them back to life.”

They also provide valuable neighborhood-level services. The gym offers low-cost membership for locals who often can’t afford the fees at other fitness centers, as well as training programs for student athletes in schools in the area, said Cariño Padilla, co-owner of Stretch Strength & Fitness.

“We are geared to serve low-income people in the community,” said Padilla.

And the flower shop provides an income to local artisans who sell handicrafts such as jewelry, candles, soap and incense in the shop. In addition, owner Kimberly Obregon is now converting the back of her shop into a commercial kitchen where food truck owners can prepare meals.

“There will be an affordable communal kitchen for local food trucks to license,” Obregon said. “We want to help overcome barriers and strengthen our economy.”

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