From all appearances, Las Delicias Bakery on Central Avenue already has a large and loyal following, with a steady stream of customers carrying out cakes, sweet breads and meat empanadas on a recent afternoon.
But that doesn’t mean her established business can’t grow more, says Zhenia Martinez.
She’ll be at the first Small Business Expo hosted by the Latin American Chamber of Commerce of Charlotte, on May 26.
“There are still people that don’t know about us. That’s what we’re hoping to get.” says Martinez, whose parents launched the storefront business 19 years ago.
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At the expo she’ll provide samples and sell bakery treats, which should pair nicely with the savory foods that local Chef Roberto Mendoza will sell.
It’s all about providing the burgeoning Latino-owned business community a chance to tout their ventures – at prices affordable to startups and small-business owners, according to Rocio Gonzalez, executive director of the chamber.
Exhibition booths are $150, lower than others. “We wanted to have an event where we were bearing most of the expense and we were giving the discount to the exhibitors,” Gonzalez says.
Like typical expos, attendees and participants can meet potential customers and fellow business owners who might need their services. The exhibition setup at Charlotte Scottish Rite will include 40 booths – five for corporations, five for non-Latino-owned businesses, and the remainder for Latino-run ventures, including web design, accounting, construction, legal services, insurance and the arts and crafts industry.
“I love it. It gives us a great chance,” says Martinez.
“You always hear about those expos going on, but they’re usually targeted to bigger corporations that can afford to pay a hefty fee to be a part of it. The smaller businesses get left out of that. It’s a great opportunity for smaller businesses.”
Gonzalez says it’s a good time for the chamber to put on its first small business expo, in a city where the overall population is rising, and the Hispanic population is growing even faster.
In Mecklenburg County, the nonwhite Hispanic population grew 14.8 percent between 2010 and 2014, more than double the white growth rate, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Last year, Hispanics made up 12.7 percent of the county's population, an estimated 128,473 people among 1.01 million residents.
Gonzalez says while the chamber doesn’t keep statistics on growth of Latino business owners in the city, its membership has grown from nearly 100 members in 2010-11 to more than 450 members today.
Those growth figures – particularly after the 2010 census – prompted the chamber to offer a wider range of services, Gonzalez said. New residents were coming not only from Mexico, but from countries in Central America and South America.
And U.S.-born Latinos, coming from northern states and Florida, were making a presence beyond furniture and textiles into a wider range of sectors –including banking and financial industries, and entrepreneurship. Families moved here because of the quality of life and cost of living, Gonzalez says –and then they’d decide to open a business here.
“We saw a big gap in service,” says Gonzalez, who became executive director in January 2015 and has been involved with the chamber for 12 years. They began offering more seminars and networking opportunities, and moved lunches to the Mint Museum Uptown to raise the chamber’s profile. She said those changes helped the chapter win recognition from the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce as the 2014 Chamber of the Year.
As executive director, Gonzalez launched the Summer Fiesta & Fundraiser, held last summer at LaCa Projects gallery and featuring a live band and dancing.
Now there’s the expo, and chamber members like Zhenia Martinez hope it becomes an annual event.
Gonzalez is hoping for that, too. “They have the opportunity to be seen by other business owners that normally would not get to know about them.”
Want to go?
Latin American Chamber of Commerce Charlotte hosts its first Small Business Expo on Thursday, May 26, 3-7 p.m. at Charlotte Scottish Rite, 4740 Randolph Road, Charlotte. Drawings, food, networking. Admission is free. For details, go to www.lacccharlotte.com.