By Rosario Bonilla

Boyle Heights Beat

Looking for culturally significant, handmade crafts or a traditionally embroidered chal? Interested in beauty products inspired by horchata, jamaica and other typical Mexican flavors? Trying to find a restaurant where you can satisfy your cravings for artisanal tamales? Now you can find all these things on a new online platform.

Shop Latinx comprises an Instagram page and a website that features small Latino-owned businesses looking to expand. Raquel García and Brittany Chávez, two young Latina entrepreneurs, started it to create a space for businesses to promote their products and services online. In less than a year, they have attracted 13,000 Instagram followers and more than 200 business listings on their site.

Brittany Chávez and Raquel García are the founders of Shop Latinx. Photo: Rosario Bonilla.

Their main goal is to encourage consumers to support small local Latino businesses by facilitating access to those shops online. “We want to have something where businesses can really excel and do their absolute best,” said García. “We don’t want to hear that places are shutting down.”

The rapid growth of this platform might not have happened if Chávez, 26, and García, 31, hadn’t met on a Facebook page. Chávez is of Guatemalan and Nicaraguan background and lives in the San Fernando Valley. When she searched for online databases of Latino-owned businesses and found none, she was inspired to create her own. She posted her ideas on a Facebook group, and García, who is also Guatemalan and a resident of the Valley, responded.

Initially, the database began on Instagram, which remains essential to the operation. Through the social media app, Chávez can easily find businesses and promote them. Businesses and consumers can also explore the hashtag, #ShopLatinx, to find products and services.

The website has some elements of Yelp, an app where users publish reviews on businesses that they visit. At www.shoplatinx.com, people can look up a business, leave reviews and rate merchants.

Business owners can sign up to the database for free. Consumers can browse through a variety of items, including clothes, accessories, food, beauty products, health products and more. While Shop Latinx is based in Los Angeles, some featured businesses are in different cities and even states.

ShopLatinX

Primera Taza, a coffee shop on First Street in Boyle Heights, became part of the database when Shop Latinx reached out to co-owner Chuy Tovar, who found that his shop and Shop Latinx had similar goals.

“What I love about them is what I’ve been teaching my entire life,” the shop owner said. “If you take care of your own, everything will take care of itself. And that’s what they’re doing, providing a [way] for Latinos to buy from us.”

Besides the database and a business resource page, the website features an online magazine with stories on businesses, political issues and entertainment.

According to Chávez, the website receives an average of 35,000 monthly views. After being featured in an article in Latina in April, the website reached over 50,000 hits.

Chávez and García have been paying for everything out of their own pockets. Since launching in August 2016, they have spent more than $2,500 in website fees, domain fees and monthly email fees, among other expenses.

As the operation has grown, it has attracted around 15 Latina volunteers, who help run the website and the Instagram feed, writing stories, sending out monthly newsletters and more.

In April, the founders reached out to their followers and created a Gofundme page to cover some of the expenses. With the help of their subscribers and followers, they eventually want to expand and become a profitable business. As of mid June, the page had raised $1,210 of its $2,300 goal.

Chávez said that ways of generating profit could include selling ads, creating an online store or having a YouTube channel “where we could monetize the views.”.

“I think it’s very important that people of color are in charge of their own narratives,” said Chávez. “We want to be focused on business, have a business database. We want to create really dope content.”

Even if they eventually rebrand, one thing Chavez and Garcia wouldn’t change is the use of the term “Latinx” in their business name.They’ve had mixed reaction to the term, but Chávez and García believe the neutral “Latinx”—not Latino and not Latina– rejects gender-specific usage of the Spanish language–even though many find it unpronounceable.

“It’s even hard for me to say Latinx, just to say it,” Chávez said. “[But] I think it’s just progressiveness, inclusiveness.”

Prior to reaching out to Primera Taza, Chávez and García didn’t know much about Boyle Heights, but they’ve since added other local businesses, such as Zapotec Cafe and vintage stylist John Carlo de Luna, better known as Barrio Dandy.

“My interest in learning more about these communities and the history behind [them], how they came to be, has gotten so much more intense,” said García.

From Primera Taza’s Tovar, for instance, they learned about the neighborhood’s “gentefication” movement,” or the launch of upscale businesses by Latino entrepreneurs.

“Its preservation of our culture,” said Chávez. “It’s the sons and the daughters of the people who have resided in Boyle Heights for so many years.”

Rosario Bonilla is a senior at Óscar de la Hoya Ánimo Charter High School. She enjoys and reading and hopes to attend a four-year college after high school.

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