A tiny bark welcomes you into Productos Naturales Georgina’s at 2286 Mission Street. Popi, a small Chihuahua, sits behind the counter in his FBI sweater. “He’s my guard,” says Georgina, the owner. “He lets me know whenever anyone comes into the store when I’m in the back. I have avoided being robbed countless times because of him.”
“I stocked this store all by myself,” said Georgina standing in the midst of her ordered inventory of clothes, perfumes, cell phone covers, chargers, creams and jewelry.
When she first arrived from Mexico in 1999, she says, she worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken and then sold food on the streets. “Many good people gave me a hand at that time,” she says. In 2010, she had saved enough money to open Productos Naturales and nowadays, her hours are still very long but she is happy to be stocking her own store.
Georgina is one of the hundreds of immigrants who run small businesses in the Mission District. And while it is difficult to say how each is doing, she and her nearby neighbor Julio, who sells hot dogs, said that business has been more difficult.
No matter. Neither intends to give. Instead, they find ways to keep afloat.
“I could always sell this and that,” she says. “I had income here and costs there and could always balance my accounts by making sure that I was selling a variety of products.” Variety, she says, gives her a safety net. When one product fails to sell well she counts on another.
On most afternoons at 20th and Mission, pedestrians can hear the sizzling of cooking bacon. That is the sound of Julio’s bacon wrapped hot dogs.
“I started out by selling hot dogs outside my house,” said Julio, the owner and sole employee of his stand. From there he earned the money to purchase a small food cart, what he calls a lunchbox, for $22,000. In the really good years he was able to make around $70,000 a year, but sales are lower and his profit has gone down to $20,000 a year.
Despite the drop, Julio is still working towards purchasing a larger $120,000 food truck. He wants to expand his menu to include quesadillas, salads and wings. He says that the new sales will allow him to pay off his truck in a year.
Georgina’s profits, she says, have diminished because rent has gone up. She has gone into debt to pay her $500 increase and to borrow $2,500 loan to purchase more clothes to sell. She took on the latter because she knows that she needs to hit a new volume of sales to pay for the increased costs.
“I will pay my debts,” says Georgina confidently. “I am not the kind of person to go around owing money everywhere.”
“Even when I was married to a good-for-nothing drunk I was making my own money,” she adds. “I didn’t need my husband. I sold popsicles, hammocks, clothes and could make good money for myself and my children.”
Georgina has learned to use a computer to keep track of sales and has earned enough money to pay for her children and grandchildren’s education. “I am here in the United States to give my family a better future,” she says. Through her efforts alone she is maintaining both her family here and those who remain in Mexico.
Julio is equally sanguine about his prospects. He went through the arduous two-year process of obtaining all his permits and food licenses so he could run a proper business. When bothered by police he only points to his licenses and says that it is within his rights to keep serving hot dogs to his customers. He will not be moved from his spot.
On weekend nights Julio stays out until around 3:00 a.m. “People come out of the parties and clubs and they come to me,” he says. He professionally sets himself up so he can sell the most, even if that means working 70 hours each week. That, he says, is the only way to run a successful business.