Over 20 years ago, Woinee Mariam wanted to open her own restaurant in the hub of Austin and join the uniqueness of the city. She ended up facing a not-so-unique problem.
“I was looking for the restaurants close to downtown area, but I couldn’t afford it because everyone was like, asking for more money, and the bank wouldn’t lend me,” she says.
Pflugerville offered the opportunity Austin couldn’t. While it still took her life’s savings, Mariam was able to open up her restaurant, Taste of Ethiopia. Today, that decision has paid off. She’s been running a thriving business for decades. While she and other businesses in the area have faced challenges, they also find rare opportunities.
“If you have something special and unique that you can bring to the area, you’re going to be a market of one,” Evan Le, founder and head coach of Yokai Strength Personal Training, says.
Kelsey Black, owner of the first bookstore in Pflugerville, The Book Burrow, agrees. When she realized the nearest independent bookstore from her home was over half an hour drive away, she decided to take matters into her own hands.
“I realized if it wasn’t me, then who, and if not now, then when?” Black says.
Black started the bookstore in her garage, but now has a brick-and-mortar location. While owners have been able to get a foot in the door better in Pflugerville than perhaps in Austin, there are still financial challenges that come along with owning a business. Sally Mascorro, owner of SM Boutique, doesn’t just rely on her businesses' revenue to pay for her lease.
“We do all have regular jobs,” she says. “When you have a regular job, and this is not your only income, you’re able to put some money from your regular job and invest it in this until it grows.”
One way Mascorro invested in her business was advertising on social media platforms. ILY Nails and Beauty Bar owner and CEO India Phillips also turned to social media to spread the word about her budding business. But since opening roughly a year ago, getting the word out about her location still proves a challenge.
“We do a lot of marketing on Facebook, you know social media, we’re trying to get our name out there but a lot of people still don’t know we’re actually here,” she says.
Some customers might be aware that a business exists, but finding its exact location can prove challenging. Esther Lonofo, president and manager of Perfect Fit Alterations, struggles with this problem. She often has to guide her customers to her location on the phone.
“It’s a new plaza, so many people don’t know [where we’re located]. If you put it in Google, Google will throw you in a different space,” she says.
While some of the struggles of owning a business are universal, many owners say the camaraderie in Pflugerville is unique. Phillips says she couldn't have made it through the pandemic without the help of her neighbors.
“In this small little area, there are I think seven other businesses that I’m very close to, and they have become like parents to me,” she says.
But it's not just a sense of community with other business owners that appeals to entrepreneurs. Some, like Kelsey, dream of becoming a go-to space for locals.
“I want to be a community space as a bookstore,” she says. “A place that you feel at home and you never want to leave, not because there’s books but because the people there make you feel at home and you don’t want to leave home.”
Whether it’s a restaurant, a nail salon or a bookstore, business owners believe they have been able to follow their dreams in Pflugerville. Le hopes it’s only just the beginning.
“It’s a very community-centered city,” he says. “And the more small mom and pop type shops that are unique and bring people in here instead of big retail lots, I think the better.”
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