Elle Natasha’s Success Story
by Nicaura Mejia
It takes a brave person to open a new business during tough economic times. But this is just what two New York women did, turning adversity into opportunity.
The two women—Elle Natasha, 33, and Bethania Vargas, 34—each found themselves without work during the current recession and did something about it. Natasha opened a fruit basket company in Queens, while Vargas is now operating her own small grocery in Brooklyn.
For Natasha, the journey to owning her own business started in 2009 during a regular day at her job at Dunkin Donuts. All of a sudden, she started to feel sick. Moments later she started throwing up on her desk, where she was one the owner’s secretaries. Her boss sent her home. The next day, she showed up to work and her boss coldly said to her “ I do not need you anymore,” she recounted.
Natasha, who is originally from Trinidad and Tobago, went home feeling sad and confused, “I worked for this company for 10 years.”
She stayed home and unemployed for months, just like hundreds of New Yorkers who have been laid off or fired due to the economic downturn in the country’s economy.
But instead of giving up and feeling sorry for herself she decided to make a courageous move. “I worked for Dunkin Donuts for ten years and I didn’t want to work for anyone else,” she said. She launched her fruit basket business in April of 2009 with the name of “Baskets by Elle.”
She said she decided to open a fruit basket business because people are more health conscious today. They want to stay healthy by eating healthy food and fruits definitely top the list of healthy food, Natasha said.
Before making the decision to open her own business, Natasha researched her options and went to a bank to get a loan but she realized that she was going to have to go through a lot of paperwork in order to get that loan. She worried about interest rates and the possibility that something might have gone wrong and she might have had to repay the loan, “I decided to use my savings instead of doing everything through a bank.” Her savings and her father’s savings were over $80,000, which she spent on refrigerators, supplies for the store, and a computer.
She and her father searched for places in Queens. One day, she was walking down Jamaica Avenue when she saw a space that was available for rent. She talked to the landlord and rented the place for her business. The space is small but everything is arranged in a way that is easy for customers to browse and choose the fruit basket they want. There are two refrigerators and shelves with a variety of baskets and teddy bears for every occasion.
“It was hard at the beginning especially the first year. I didn’t get that many orders so I was not making that much money.” Natasha also said she faced people’s negative attitudes and lack of trust in her ability to manage a business on her own.
However, these were not the only obstacles she has found in her way to success. Natasha confessed that having her own business is a blessing but it is also a sacrifice.
“Working on your own as your own boss affect your personal relationships…sometimes I’m in at 10 o’clock I the morning and I leave at 10 pm, there is no time to hang out and spend time with family and friends,” she said.
However, Natasha feels that her sacrifices are worth it, “I feel happy that I have my own business, it makes me feel proud that I accomplished something.”
She currently does catering for weddings, baby showers, bridal showers, sweet sixteen, and all kinds of parties. She does not have employees but she hires someone to help her during special holidays such as Christmas, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day and when she has orders for big parties.
Natasha’s story is not unique. Bethania Vargas, 34, a resident from the Dominican Republic living in Brooklyn, also decided to open her own business despite the economic crisis.
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“I got a job at the New York hotel in Manhattan and I worked there for seven years.” Vargas started as a front desk agent and made her way up to assistant to director of sales and marketing.
“I got laid off back in 2009 due to the economy,” she said. Vargas then started to look for a job but none of the employers wanted to pay her what she was used to getting paid with her Bachelor’s Degree in Hospitality Management.
After months of looking for a well-paid job, she decided to open her own business: a grocery store with the name of Aaron Deli grocery located in the Bushwick area in Brooklyn.
“My parents owned a grocery store but they retired and went back to the Dominican Republic so I bought the grocery store and I moved it right across the street where there was a bigger space available,” she said. Like Natasha, Vargas didn’t want to get a loan from a bank so she borrowed $50,000 from a friend in order to buy her parents’ grocery store. “I didn’t have any money saved at that point,” she said.
She moved all the merchandise from the old grocery store, bought more merchandise and remodeled the place in order to attract people and make her business look better and more interesting for the residents around the area. “I try to be a little bit different than the other grocery stores around the area so that I create a different impact in the neighborhood,” she said. She has created a different atmosphere by bringing a variety of healthy foods such as organic juices, fresh sandwiches and more natural foods to the area where her grocery store is located and where people are not used to getting healthy or organic food from a grocery store.
But things have not being easy. Vargas admits that the economy has affected her business. Even though Vargas’ grocery store is considered one of the best grocery stores in the area, she acknowledges that is not the same as it was to be when her parents owned a grocery store. “Businesses are struggling.” She has to keep bringing new and better products to the store in order to stay in business.
She also said owning her own business has being a challenge, “Sometimes I have to work more than 12 hours a day and by the time I get home I feel exhausted.”
She employees one person who rotates a schedule with her and even though she works long hours she is not planning to hire anymore people.
“Having your own business is time consuming and it requires hard work but my grocery store is one of the best in the area and I’m very proud to say that.”