When Angelica immigrated to Grand Rapids from Mexico in 2001, the first goal she set for herself was to find a job. A single mother, Angelica faced the daunting task of raising seven children; four of whom were her nephews and nieces whom she had adopted following her sister’s passing. She never imagined she would become an entrepreneur, but not long after she moved to Michigan she met a local vendor who offered to sell her his wholesale blanket business. She accepted the offer and began to sell blankets in a small indoor space at the local flea market.
On her way to work one day, she noticed a vacant business space on Division Avenue. She realized the potential for the large space as both a business and community center. Every day for five years, she drove by the vacant space praying silently that someday it would become hers. After five years, she was finally able to raise enough financial capital to lease it.
Today, La Casa de la Cobija, or The Blanket House, has become exactly what Angelica hoped it could be. It’s a place where all community members can feel welcome and at home. It also serves as a community meeting space and event center. Angelica shared that newly arrived immigrants often come to the store to learn about the community and connect with resources. Being an immigrant herself, Angelica knows the important contributions and strengths of immigrants and focuses a lot of her time on being an advocate and a liaison between the city and the local immigrant community. Currently, she’s working with the city to create a development plan that doesn’t displace local residents.
Angelica’s story is truly remarkable and is an example of how immigrant community members strengthen local Michigan communities every single day. A new report from the League takes a look at how immigrant Main Street business owners across Michigan are doing and how policies can strengthen their outcomes.
Main Street businesses are those businesses that are small-scale, less capital intensive and more locally oriented than other small businesses. They tend to fall into three broad sectors: retail, accommodation and food services, and neighborhood services. In Michigan, immigrants play an outsized role in the economy, making up 20% of all Main Street business owners despite making up only 6% of the state population.
Immigrant Main Street business owners are helping to revitalize neighborhoods and put dollars back into the economy, while also providing vital services to local immigrant communities. Still, many continue to face barriers to business startup and success. As noted in the report, policymakers can take steps to support this community of business owners by providing local outreach, business planning and management, and facilitating access to financing among others. Read the report to learn more about the vital ways immigrant Main Street business owners strengthen Michigan.