MCALLEN, Texas — For the sixth consecutive year, the City of McAllen and LiftFund have renewed their partnership to provide zero-interest loans to small businesses in the city.
Marlene Rodriguez, Market Director for LiftFund, joined Guardian of the Rio Grande international news service Editor Steve Taylor on a Zoom call to discuss the nonprofit’s renewal and impact in the region.
As a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), LiftFund offers loans to small business owners and entrepreneurs who cannot obtain capital through a traditional financial institution. The organization has lent more than $39 million to small businesses in the region since opening its Rio Grande Valley office in 1998. McAllen accounts for $28 million of those loans, with 129 businesses receiving an average of 29 000 dollars. Among programs with a zero percent interest rate, LiftFund provided $3.7 million in partnership with the City of McAllen.
Rodriguez says she is happy to continue working with the Town of McAllen and explained that the program has helped many businesses thrive in the community.
“It creates new jobs,” Rodriguez said. “It attracts new businesses to town. It gets people to come and shop here in the town of McAllen, so it’s a great program. And, again, I thank the city for giving us the opportunity to partner with them so that we can offer this (sic) zero interest loan to small businesses.
LiftFund can lend between $500 and $500,000 to businesses. Individuals operating or wishing to open a small business in McAllen who are unable to obtain a loan through Commercial Loans are eligible for the Zero Rate Program.
Although she hopes to collaborate with other cities in the future, Rodriguez says LiftFund can still help residents outside of McAllen. She encourages people to visit their website and submit their application online. Even if someone has been denied a loan, Rodriguez says he will explain the reason for the denial and work with the individual so they can revisit the request at a later date.
For businesses that have received loans, Rodriguez says LiftFund offers additional assistance on a variety of topics, from creating business plans to managing employees.
“We also provide them with the technical support – technical assistance – that this person needs to continue to grow,” Rodriguez said.
One of those people was Milly Chirino.
Born in Weslaco and raised in Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas, Chirino has always been interested in fashion. After graduating from college, getting married and having a baby, she quit her job to focus on raising her child. When her husband was transferred to Phoenix, Arizona for work, the family moved. It was there that Chirino walked into a shoe store that inspired her to start her own business.
With a budget of $300, Chirino established Millys Boutique in 2010, selling women’s shoes, accessories and clothing through her Facebook page. Through word of mouth, the business grew exponentially and Chirino sought to open a physical store in his home. Her family members invested in her business plan, and in November 2013 she was able to open Millys, her first boutique in downtown McAllen.
Two years later, Chirino opened a second location at Mercedes. While tending to the store, Chirino was approached by Rodriguez to see if LiftFund could help her. Although she didn’t need any help at the time, she reconnected with Rodriguez after she closed the Mercedes store and decided to open Millys Glam across from her original boutique in McAllen.
“She helped me tremendously,” Chirino said. “She is also very dedicated to her work. I really liked that. And that opened a lot of doors for me.
Chirino says LiftFund helped her with accounting and business strategies and ultimately prepared her to open her third store, Curvy by Millys, a boutique catering exclusively to plus-size women in February 2020.
When asked what she thinks is the secret to her success, Chirino says it all comes down to loving what you do.
“I think the key here is that I’m very passionate about what I do,” Chirino said. “I appreciate it so much. To me, it doesn’t really look like a job.
Chirino says she personally chooses everything sold in her stores and strives to give her customers the best shopping experience possible.
“My team knows. I want every girl who comes here to feel like she’s in her closet, comfortable,” Chirino said. “The store must smell good; it must be clean; you have to get organized. They have to be treated well so it’s a good experience.
But above all, Chirino says its affordable prices are the biggest draw.
“There’s a saying in Spanish that’s ‘bueno, bonito, y barato,'” Chirino said. it’s affordable; and it’s pretty. I think this is a very important thing. The way we present our shoes, the way we take our photos, the way we do our photo shoots, the way we maintain our stores – when you walk in here you’re like “oh my god, these shoes are going to be very expensive” because of how you get the service, … and they are surprised that they are only $15, all the shoes. I think that’s our strategy.
Chirino expressed his gratitude to Rodriguez and LiftFund for all of their guidance and financial support, and implored other small business owners and entrepreneurs in the Valley to seek them out.
“I think LiftFund is something every small business owner should know about,” Rodriguez said. “…It’s a very, very good helper. They also offer great service, and thanks to them, hard work and all that, we are already opening our fourth location.
For more information about LiftFund, you can visit their website or contact Marlene Rodriguez at 956-299-2551.
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