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A group of Mexican merchants in South Philadelphia came together to help fellow business owners. Photo Courtesy of The Association of Mexican Business Owners of Philadelphia.
A group of Mexican merchants in South Philadelphia came together to help fellow business owners. Photo Courtesy of The Association of Mexican Business Owners of Philadelphia.

How the pandemic led to the launch of the Association of Mexican Business Owners of Philadelphia

As the pandemic challenged businesses, a group of Mexican merchants came together to form an association that has grown exponentially in just two years.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating economic impact on the local business community.

However, through all the difficulties and challenges that the pandemic has presented for those businesses, some good came from it, as well.

The Association of Mexican Business Owners of Philadelphia is an example of such.

While efforts to launch the Association began over 20 years ago, they were for naught, as competition amongst one another often stood as a barrier toward true collaboration.

“But the pandemic forced them to realize that they weren’t alone, that they needed help,” said Héctor Herrada Rangel, board chair for the Association of Mexican Business Owners of Philadelphia, in an interview with AL DÍA.

Many Latino small business owners were unable to qualify for financial assistance from the federal, state or local governments during the onset of the pandemic, leading to feelings of isolation. 

That isolation would then lead to doubts about the future of their respective small businesses — in some cases, their only consistent stream of income and popular staples in the South Philadelphia community.

A group of Mexican merchants in South Philadelphia decided that something had to be done to combat these challenges. 

“So, they started gathering together and came up with ideas to find ways to support each other,” added Herrada Rangel. 

The first idea was to create a GoFundMe campaign to help raise funds while these Mexican merchants strived to ensure their businesses remained open, and they could continue to provide delivery and takeout options for their customers.

The GoFundMe campaign helped the Association raise nearly $44,000 in just a couple months, which was then distributed across the 12 original merchants that comprised the Association.

“That was a great thing because we saw the love and appreciation of so many people around Philadelphia for these immigrant business owners,” said Herrada Rangel.

In less than two years, the Association has more than tripled in size. 

Julio Nuñez, who just recently joined the Association’s board of directors, has been highly impressed with what has already been accomplished in such a short time.

“I think it’s amazing,” he said, noting that this kind of effort has been needed among the diverse-owned businesses in the community for a long time.

Nuñez praised the impact of “seeing the need to really organize all of the business owners to really speak with one voice.”

The next step, said Herrada Rangel, was to formalize the Association into a nonprofit.

“It was a long road,” he noted, adding that the process originally began in September 2021.

With crucial support from organizations like Puentes de Salud, The Welcoming Center, and the Widener Small Business Development Center (SBDC), as well as legal services from Philadelphia VIP, the Association of Mexican Business Owners of Philadelphia became an official nonprofit organization in February 2022. 

“This is just the beginning,” added Herrada Rangel. 

The board has remained committed to expanding the Association’s efforts to provide further services to the Latino business community. 

While it was initially formed to support businesses that were severely impacted by the pandemic, it has grown to also promote local economic development, create employment opportunities, and increase the tools, skills and representation of business owners within the region.

Through collaboration with various other organizations, the Association has played a part in distributing more than $227,000 in scholarships and grants to 20 businesses during the pandemic. 

“It’s very exciting to see how [the organization] is growing and how quickly it’s growing, which tells us that there is a need and there is an understanding that this creates value for them,” said Nuñez. 

In April, the Association of Mexican Business Owners of Philadelphia was awarded as one of the recipients of the 2022 Solas Awards

To Herrada Rangel, the recognition was poetic and a direct contrast from how the community has often interacted in the past.  

“We were able to celebrate as a community… sharing an award that we won together,” he said. “That’s the beauty of this organization, that these businesses are seeing each other as friends and colleagues, instead of like competition.” 

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