Mission Street has long been a source of community and entertainment for 31-year Chrystos Cusigch. But today, filtered through the clean glass windows of her pristine store, Yatere Organics, it holds the promise of something entirely new — potential business.
Yatere is one of a half-dozen Latino-owned small businesses to open in the month-old El Mercado, an incubator marketplace launched by the Mission Economic Development Agency. With six of the nine available shop spaces already up and running at Plaza Adelante — the ground floor of MEDA’s 19th and Mission office building — El Mercado celebrates its grand opening this Thursday, the 28th.
“Being with MEDA is like having a father — they’re always at your back,” said Cusigch, who immigrated to San Francisco seven years ago from the small Mexican mountain town of Zongolica. “I’m pretty happy. It’s not like starting on your own, you’re starting with others.”
Of the six businesses open at Mercado, four of them are brand-new: Mystical Collection, Our Mission, Joyas & Sports and Yatere Organics. Diju jewelry, however, began two years ago as a small stand at the Saturday artisan market at the 24th Street BART plaza, then opened a small shop on 26th, near Mission Street.
The sixth store, Optical Franklin, also subleases space in Artesanias y Transportes El Salvador, on Mission Street between 18th and 19th. Both are members of the Mission Small Business Association.
The spaces at El Mercado range from 48 to 180 square feet and cost anywhere from $270 to $1,100 per month to rent. While MEDA doesn’t provide any specific discount on rental rates, it secured the business licenses from the city and hired a contractor to help set up the store spaces.
El Mercado is a natural evolution for 34-year-old MEDA, which provides free and low-cost bilingual classes in business planning, budgeting, lease management and marketing for San Francisco entrepreneurs with low-income backgrounds and limited access to resources. Additionally, it offers assistance to first-time home-buyers and micro-loans for startup businesses.
“I’ve been following the changes in the Mission Street commercial corridor, and we know that this is not an affordable place to start a business,” says Dairo Romero, who runs MEDA’s community organizing and advocacy program. “El Mercadito offers the opportunity to open a business and includes comprehensive technical assistance.”
For Cusigch and the other new tenants of El Mercado, this translates to confidence.
She heard about the concept of El Mercado though a friend. After contacting MEDA, she was told that she could qualify for a spot in the market if she graduated from MEDA’s business development program, which covers such topics as attracting clients, applying for commercial loans, drafting a business plan, negotiating commercial leases, understand financial statements, and obtaining permits and licensing.
Once Cusigch completed her businesses plan and qualified for a special low-interest $5,000 loan (a federal program), she was granted a space at El Mercado.
“They helped me with doing taxes, getting publicity, and with their workshops,” the Bernal Heights resident said. “I can’t imagine doing this by myself.”
Her store, Yatere, means “Piece of Moon” in the language of her father’s people, the Guaraní, who live in the region where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet. The designs printed on her organic-cotton baby clothes (hand-drawn by Cusigch) feature animals endemic to Latin America, such as the axolotl (tiger salamander), llama and quetzal. She hopes that by providing natural and organic baby products she will encourage the use of chemical-free and sustainable products in the Latino community.
“I always want to give my baby [18-month-old Jaci] organic food, but it is so expensive. The Latino community…we don’t really know about the idea of organics. I wanted to do something to help.”
Opening up shop in El Mercado also gave Patricia Torres a means of combining commercial ambitions with personal interests. Frustrated by watching her handicapped son suffer from the side effects of his prescription medication, she turned to alternative medicine for answers, and eventually found a combination that worked.
“I thought, ‘If this worked for me, why not help others that could use [natural medicine]?’”
Torres had heard of MEDA through a friend, and began talking with the organization about opening a business at El Mercado. Along with Cusigch, she was required to write a business plan and was guided through loan applications as part of MEDA’s business development program.
“Through the classes, I learned about financial issues, marketing and budgeting.”
Torres opened Mystical Collections in the first few days of El Mercado, filling the small 12-by-8-foot space with books on natural healing, essential oils, home remedies and natural products. She says that most of the people who’ve come into her shop are just curious, but hopes the grand opening will bring some exposure to the six new shops tucked inside.
“It’s like a dream, something you want to do with your life, but you’re insecure to do it on your own. But if you have someone right there next to you, it gives you strength.”