SAN ANTONIO – Small businesses on San Antonio’s Westside got some much-needed good news today.
The Westside Development Corporation’s bilingual helpline will assist companies with everything from arranging loans to finding digital support, landlord issues and navigating red-tape.
Business owners are asked to call (210) 598-8482 during business hours.
“Many of the businesses have been here for 50, 80 years and never really had a proper banking relationship,” says District 5 councilwoman Shirley Gonzales. “Having a one stop shop can help people so they don’t call a bunch of different places trying to get the information that they need.”
Joining Gonzales and the WDC in the assistance program are LiftFund, LaunchSA, and the UTSA Small Business Development Center.
Helping at least 1,000 Westside businesses is the goal.
“There’s a lot more than that hurting,,” says Ramiro Gonzales, interim president and CEO of the WDC. “We want to be able to make sure that we create and provide a very simple way to just get plugged in to everything that’s available to them.”
One businessman who plans to take advantage of the new service is Alex Villanueva, owner El Siete Mares restaurant near Our Lady of the Lake University.
His Mexican seafood restaurant on West Commerce Street has scaled back from seven days a week to five. Staffing has dropped from 40 to five.
“Right now we need all the help we can get,” he says. “Get us going in the right direction would be great.”
Many of the small Westside businesses don’t know where to turn for help.
Kristi Villanueva , president of the West San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, sees businesses struggling every day.
“They have their heads in their books or their business. They don’t look up long enough to see that there are programs out there. They realize very quickly that there’s a frustration there. And they can’t get the help they need immediately,” she says.
“They are out there. The need is there. “They just can’t get away from their business long enough to be on the phone for half a day.”
She says business owners who don’t speak English are at a disadvantage.
“We need to provide more an understanding, more of a connection to our Spanish speaking business community. These folks, business owners, leaders in our community, they need that bridge,” she says. “They want to contribute so much. We owe this to them, to be able to do that.”
There’s another obstacle facing many Westside businesses.
“We know that we have a big digital divide here,” Councilwoman Gonzales says.
Manpower is another issue.
“Many businesses closed their doors and have not been able to bring back their employees. People are actually looking for employees,” she says.
Securing capital is another ever-present concern.
Many businesses are still trying to arrange emergency loans, including El Siete Mares, which tried unsuccessfully to secure an SBA loan.
“We didn’t get anything. Some bigger places got it. The smaller places like me didn’t get nothing,” Villanueva says.
“If there is a second chance, that would be great.”
Ramiro Gonzales has this advance for any struggling Westside business.
“Call the helpline. We’ll figure out what works best for you,” he says. “Really it’s about us taking ownership of their issues as our own.”