It’s a long way from London’s Savile Row, but inside his modest sewing shop, Juan Rios is making San Antonio just a little more dapper.
He’s a tailor by trade, spiffing up corporate suits for doctors and lawyers.
“First of all, if you’re a doctor and you don’t look good, who goes to you?” Rios said. “Same with lawyers. If you’re in a nice tie and nice shirt, I mean, they are your impressions.”
Rios does alterations of all sorts, even wedding gowns.
“We do collars. We do shoulders. We do leather,” he said.
Rios learned his trade as a child growing up in Juarez, Mexico. After he married, he landed in Chicago, where he worked for Polo Ralph Lauren and opened his own small business called Chicago Custom Tailor Shop.
When Rios moved to 8107 Broadway in San Antonio 25 years ago, he kept the the name and the Cubs memorabilia.
He’s been sewing up success ever since. That is until last spring when the pandemic gripped the economy.
Customers slowed to a trickle, and Rios hasn’t had enough work to support paying his few employees.
“It’s a worry,” he said. “The bills don’t stop every month. But I don’t want to quit.”
For the first time in his career, he applied for and received a loan, a $10,000 loan through the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
Rios may be the exception. It’s been a challenge for many small minority-owned businesses to secure some of the billions of PPP dollars.
According to the Center for Responsible Lending, as many as 90% of minority-owned businesses were shut out of PPP loans.
The lack of disparity has been attributed to the following: having no previous relationship with a lender, the original applications were written only in English, and many small mom-and-pop shops don’t have fast access to an accountant or lawyer to handle the documents.
“You have to talk the bank lingo, or you’re not seen as a successful business,” said Janie Barrera, president and CEO of LIftfund, a nonprofit that helps small businesses access capital.
The majority of the businesses that Liftfund works with are Latino-owned.
“Our experience has been that financial literacy is one of the most important key elements that a small business needs to start and grow their business,” Barrera said. “In the traditional way, in Latino families, they know their product. The financial literacy part has not been added to the equation.”
Through its programs, Liftfund offers training that can later help a small business approach a traditional bank.
Liftfund is also working with the city and county to help struggling small business owners secure grants or very low-interest loans.
As for Rios, he’s hopeful that more work will come in before his money runs out, leaving him hanging by a thread.
“I’m going to do whatever I can to stay alive,” he said. “I hope I can survive.”