NewsHispanic Heritage


Southwest Detroit Hispanic business owners talk success, struggles during COVID and what's ahead

Posted at 5:38 AM, Sep 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-27 05:38:12-04

(WXYZ) — Last week marked the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to October 15. It's a time to celebrate the historic and current achievements and contributions of Hispanic Americans in our communities.

From a business standpoint, there's nowhere locally where those contributions are more evident than in Southwest Detroit.

It's where Jason Rios turned a passion project and small t-shirt line into his a full-time job. His screen printing business, The Shop Screen Printing started with displays at trade shows and then pop-up markets around town.

Around 2014 Rios decided to set-up a permanent storefront in the heart of Mexicantown on Bagley.

“I grew up around the corner like literally two blocks away from here," Rios told Action News while standing inside his shop.

Despite a temporary closure during the pandemic, some abandoned orders, and ongoing supply chain kinks, he's seeing the glass half-full; the light at the end of the COVID tunnel so-to-speak. Business he said, is starting to pick back up again.

Rios is mostly self-taught, on top of having a natural talent for art.

“Once I got good at it a lot of people started asking me to do their orders, do their shirts and then it became a service," he said. “Somebody asked me can I do 500 shirts. And I was like… yeah I think I can.”

That was his first official order, from a customer who is still loyal to this day.

When the Southwest Detroit Business Association took a look at the business landscape in the surrounding areas several years back, they noticed something pretty special.

“We looked at the Dun and Bradstreet data and we realized that we had more entrepreneurs than downtown and Midtown," said interim president and CEO, Theresa Zajac.

Zajac said many immigrant-run businesses, which in Southwest Detroit are largely Hispanic, represent generational commitments; sons and daughters taking over for their parents and perhaps reinventing the business at the same time.

Right now the Association is working with older entrepreneurs to help them boost their social media presence, something younger business owners seem to have jumped to naturally during the pandemic.

Lana Rodriguez is the owner of Mama Coo's Boutique in Corktown on Trumbull. She sells everything from clothing to fine textiles, vintage house decor and artistic jewelry. Her biggest sellers tend to be earrings.

“I find everything myself and then our handmade stuff is actually made by people that I know personally," she said.

Rodriguez launched the boutique a little more than five years ago. It's not a generational business, but it has important family symbolism.

“Growing up my grandfather used to call me Mama Coo," she said.

During the height of the pandemic, she moved some of the inventory in her 400-square-foot shop outside for sidewalk sales. She's open inside once again, with limited hours and capacity.

Rodriguez is Mexican-American. She finds one-of-a-kind pieces all over the country, and often from markets in Mexico, too.

“We keep an inventory that reflects us, how I grew up, the city," she said.

Both Rios and Rodriguez hope for and see expansion and growth for their businesses in the future. Rios said his flagship store though, will always be on Bagley.