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Hispanic businesses find their niche
Ivette Virella took a major gamble last fall and quit her job to open a Puerto Rican/American restaurant on River Road in the Riverside section of Buffalo.
Though Virella's catering business has thrived, Ivette's Restaurant is struggling. The Hispanic community has been slow to accept the new business and potential customers in a primarily white, neighborhood don't realize the place also serves American and Italian food.
"I made the mistake of putting something Spanish on the sign and they don't realize I have spaghetti and subs and chicken wings," she said. "I do breakfast too. They're slowly coming in."
Virella is quick to point out that she doesn't market her business strictly to the Hispanic community, though she points to Puerto Rican dishes like roast pork and pastellitos as her specialty dishes.
"It would be easier if I was on the West Side, as far as getting the Spanish people to come to my restaurant," she said. "But I don't want to cater just to Spanish people. I want American people to get familiarized with our food."
Americans of all racial and ethnic backgrounds will need to get accustomed to things Hispanic if they want to keep up with the changes in the U.S. population. The Hispanic population in Western New York and nationwide has grown significantly over the past decade, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.
Determining exact growth in the sector is difficult, however. The Census Bureau does not classify Hispanics as a race, and instead asks people whether they also consider themselves. Hispanic. The 1990 census found that Chautauqua County had Western New York's highest concentration of Hispanics, 2.9 percent. The figure for Erie County was 2.3 percent.
In the 2000 census, Chautauqua County continued to be the leader, with 42 percent. Orleans County was No. 2, with 3.9 percent, followed by Erie County, With 3.3 percent. Dunkirk led all of Western New York's cities, towns or villages with the largest concentration, 19.9 percent or 2,613 of its 13,131 residents - up from 14 percent or 1,954 in 1990. Buffalo also saw its Hispanic population rise to 7.5 percent or 21,949 of its 292,648 total in 2000, up from 4.9 percent or 16,129 in 1990.
"The Hispanic community has been growing, that's pretty obvious to everybody," said Paula Alcala Rosner, an economic development planner for the City of Buffalo. "We also know there's substantial growth in the Black Rock/Riverside area"
Growth in the sector represents a mix of people from different areas. The largest percentage, Rosner said, are from Puerto Rico, but there's also been an influx of people from Central and South America as well as growth among the Hispanic population that has existed in Buffalo for years. The Lower West Side has the largest concentration of Hispanics, but the population is becoming, more interspersed throughout the city as a whole, she said.
Raul Vazquez is president of the Latino Business Owners Association, a 2-year-old organization with, about 60 members, most of them, from the city's West Side. Though the group is still somewhat fractured, Vazquez said the group hopes to branch out and network with other Hispanic communities in the region.
"We've been trying to tackle a lot of different things," said Vazquez, who runs a family medical practice. "Once we get the system up and running, the idea is to get the infrastructure up and go into the Rochester and Dunkirk areas."
In Dunkirk, despite the large concentration of Hispanics, there aren't as
many businesses that cater to the community, said Betsy Blanco-Perez, coordinator of the diversity clearinghouse program at Jamestown Community College. BlancoPerez works with minority groups to connect the unemployed to employers in the region, as well as to the Small Business Development Center at the college.
"Unfortunately, there is not much business growth in the Jamestown area and I think it's pretty small in the Dunkirk area," she said.
Business ownership in the region is definitely disproportionate to the population, she said.
"We recently had a Hispanic/Puerto Rican restaurant that opened but followed the path of other small businesses: It closed Within the year," Blanco-Perez said. "The excitement surrounding that was tremendous in the neighborhoods. The first day was very crowded. They probably needed more experience. They had a great idea, a restaurant that's going to cater to the Latinos. But just like anything else, the know-how, the nuts-and-bolts of running a business, wasn't there."
The area has yet to see any bodegas, or Latino. markets, open up, as Buffalo has.
"We need to maybe have some type of programs in the community that brings it in Spanish and kind of introduces entrepreneurship," she said. "It's just like anything else. They don't know what the first step is."
The Small Business Administration has worked to increase minority business ownership among several groups, including the Hispanic population. For several' years, the agency has held seminars and workshops marketed directly at the Hispanic and African-American population, but results are slow in coming.
In fiscal 2000, 7.4 percent or 23 of the 310 SBA-backed loans that closed in the region went to minority entrepreneurs. The total included 10 to Asians, seven to blacks, one to a Native American and four to Hispanics. Those included loans to Jamestown's Ironstone Restaurant; Pasta Pronto in Buffalo; Aladdin Development & Construction Inc. and Systems & Engineering P.C. The figure was up from fiscal 1999, when 21 minority entrepreneurs received 6.5 percent of the total 321 SBA loans in Western New York.
Rosner, of the city's economic development office, said there has been business growth, but much of it is very small and some is self-employment and home-based businesses, for which figures are difficult to track.
Some businesses appear to be doing well, such as Tito's Bar & Restaurant in Dunkirk, which is starting its third year in business. Owner Hector Rosas said the business doesn't target a Latino-only audience, however, offering live entertainment that ranges from jazz and blues to rock to Spanish/Latino music.
"We do it all. We have a tribute to Pink Floyd and The Doors this weekend, and next week a Latin band," he said.
* THE 2000 CENSUS IN FOCUS
Whites remain the dominant racial group in Western New York. Newly released figures from the 2000 census show that 86.5 percent of the residents of the eight-county region are white. Blacks are the largest minority group at 9.3 percent. Hispanics account for 2.8 percent of the regional population. (The U.S. Census Bureau considers Hispanics to be an ethnic group, but not a racial one.)
Percentage of residents who are Hispanic: The top eight localities Dunkirk (city) 19.9% Collins 11.9% Albion (village) 9.3% Attica (town) 9.2% Portland 8.6% Parry (town) 8.3% Albion (town) 8.1% Buffalo 7.5% WNY average 2.8% Note: Table made from bar graph All of Western New York Buffalo Amherst White 86.5% 54.4% 89.3% Black 1.2% 2.5% 1.1% American Indian 1.2% 3.7% 0.4% Asian American 1.1% 1.4% 5.2% Other 0.7% …