Hispanic business owners blame immigration law for exodus of customers

By REBECCA MCCLAY
Cronkite News Service

PHOENIX – At Mr. Lucky Barber Shop in this west Phoenix plaza, owner Ruben Vizzerra bides the time by mending his button-down shirt as he watches television.

His 35-year-old business was already suffering from a stagnant economy in April, when Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB 1070, Arizona’s controversial immigration law. Since then, he said, business has just gotten worse.

29-latinobusiness-salonowner-inside.jpgLike many of the remaining business owners in the plaza, Vizzerra blames his struggles on what Latino-business owners call an exodus of their customer base – immigrants who are afraid of the law and are fleeing to other states. Vizzerra plans to close by December if traffic doesn’t pick up soon.

Roxana Quintero, owner of Estetica La Fayette 2 hair salon, says her business is down 40 pecent since SB 1070 took effect in April. Even with major provisions of the law on hold, leaders say businesses catering to Latinos continue to suffer.
(Cronkite News Service Photo by Rebecca L. McClay
)

“Let’s put it this way: SB 1070 didn’t help,” Vizzerra said on a recent Friday afternoon, sewing amid dry sinks and empty chairs.

Latino business owners expect their financial hardships to continue as more of their regular customers move out of the state, said James Garcia, director of communications for the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“They’re leaving in droves, and they’re leaving certain neighborhoods,” Garcia said of Arizona’s immigrant population. “And when they leave those neighborhoods, the hair salon or the barbershop on the corner is going to be directly affected. The impact is real.”

About 30 percent of Hispanic businesses are owned by immigrants, both legal and illegal, and most of them cater to other immigrants, Garcia said. Once those customers leave, business owners don’t expect them to come back, he said.

Nestled in the heart of a predominantly Latino neighborhood at the corner of West Thomas Road and North 43rd Avenue, this once-thriving shopping center began to have troubles about three years ago, with the broader recession, business owner said.

On a recent Friday afternoon, the pace at the plaza is slow. A piñata swings gently in the breeze. A lone man strolls down the sidewalk. A few laborers haul unsold merchandise from the latest defunct business to their pickup trucks. The parking lot is virtually empty.

More than half of the shops here are vacant. The Food City grocery store that anchored the plaza has closed. A small, family-owned market and a pizza shop are gone. Along with Vizzerra, the owners of a pupusa restaurant and hair salon say they will close soon, too, if business doesn’t rebound.

Around the corner from Mr. Lucky, La Pupusa Loca restuarant owner Ana Vela and her daughter, Agatha, say the plaza is so vacant that many people are confused about whether the eatery is even open.

“Unfortunately, it (the plaza) looks like it’s dying,” said Agatha Vela, sitting at one of the red vinyl-topped tables during lunch hour. The other tables were empty.

“We have lost a lot of clients because either they have moved to New Mexico, California or the East Coast,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to pick up anytime soon. I don’t think this year.”

Farther down the plaza at Estetica La Fayette 2 hair salon, owner Roxana Quintero predicts this will be her last month here, after seeing her revenue plummet by about 40 percent since April.

She plans to move to a community that isn’t as heavily populated with immigrants or to a cheaper location. Or she’ll close permanently.

“It’s slow and it’s been hard,” Quintero said during a break between her few appointments for the day.

Garcia said the immigrant population is “hyper-aware” of the details of SB 1070, including the fact that many of the most controversial parts of the law were put on hold by a federal judge. But Garcia said the injunction hasn’t relieved immigrants’ fears of being arrested.

“There’s still a lot of uncertainty,” Garcia said “To them, yeah there was a stoppage to what the law was doing, but the law is still on the books. Who knows how the court case will play out? If you’re a lay person, you’re going to be cautious.”

And it’s that caution that may force business owners like Quintero to call it quits.

“Most people began to tell us that they were going to move to another state,” Quintero said. “From Monday to Friday, there’s very few people. People got very scared.”

Facts about Latino-owned businesses in Arizona:
- grew by 50 percent in a five-year period, to 52,667 in 2007 from 35,104 in 2002, outpacing the national increase of 43.7 percent.
- made up 10.7 percent of state firms in 2007 compared to 8.3 percent nationwide.
- saw receipts rise from $4.29 billion in 2002 to $8.04 billion in 2007, an 87.1 percent increase.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

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