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A voice in the North Shore

Latino group seeks to support local businesses

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Every time James Barron drove by Padilla Barber Shop, in Sea Cliff, he would spot Ever Padilla waving at the front door. The two were strangers, but Barron grew curious about who the friendly barber was. So he stopped by last September, and got more than a haircut. Snipping away at Barron’s hair, the 41-year-old Padilla shared an ambition that he held close to his heart — a plan to galvanize the North Shore’s Latino community.

Data from the 2010 U.S. census indicates that the Latino portion of Glen Cove’s population has increased to more than 25 percent. Encouraged by that statistic, Padilla, teamed up with fellow Salvadoran immigrant Elsa Valle, who helps manage her family’s catering business in Port Washington, to try to push for a Latino candidate for City Council in 2017. Their hope was that representation on the council would provide support for their community. When their candidate failed to get elected, Padilla and Valle moved forward with an idea that they have mulled for years, the formation of a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on the North Shore.

“When you’re talking by yourself in a community meeting, no one really hears you,” Padilla said. “But when you have the backing of hundreds of businesses, things are different. Business equals a voice in the community.”

Barron, 46, an assistant principal at Evergreen Charter School in Hempstead and Peruvian immigrant, volunteered to become a member of the chamber’s executive board because, he said, while there were a number of organizations that helped Latinos on Long Island’s South Shore, there was little support for the community in the north. Language and cultural differences, Barron said, created a barrier between Latino business owners and the usual resources and organizations that were supposed to help them. A Hispanic Chamber of Commerce would appeal to those businesses and connect them with the help that they needed.

Barron said he hopes the chamber can recruit 300 businesses in its first year. It is focusing on businesses in Glen Cove, Port Washington and Huntington, which have large Latino populations, and plans to recruit an additional 100 businesses every year after. Annie Spiers, 42, who does marketing and business administration work in Huntington and is the organization’s secretary, said she wanted it to become the go-to group that local businesses come to for help. Because a lot of older Latino business owners tend to focus on running their businesses from day to day, Spiers said, they overlook the importance of marketing, and limit their opportunities to grow.

“They can also lack a lot of management skills and have no accounting system, and you see them go out of business because of that,” Spiers said. “We can help them with that and provide networking opportunities within the business community.”

Gabriel Rodriguez, 42, of Coram, added that older Latino business owners began their businesses in order to provide for their families. Rodriguez, the chamber’s treasurer, explained that focusing solely on operations and profits keeps businesses from getting involved in their communities. With their own chamber, he said, Latino businesses can make their presence known on the North Shore, by, for example, providing support for youth programs.

Barron said that the chamber plans to host a handful of multicultural events this year, and hopes to create college scholarships for Latino students studying business. “We want the business community to be a partner,” he said, “and support the communities they call home.”

Padilla added that while the chamber would focus on the needs of Latino businesses, it would also be open to any and all business owners who would like to improve their relationships with the Latino community and learn how to best serve that demographic. With the Latino population on the rise, he said, businesses should come to see them as employees, clients and competitors.

As the new chamber’s executive members work to finish the organization’s website, set to launch the first week of September, Padilla hopes to secure a location for an opening ceremony on Sep. 14. Though the initial membership recruit will focus on Glen Cove, Huntington and Port Washington, if the organization meets its 300-member goal in 2020, Padilla said, he hopes to expand its reach as far east as the Hamptons.

“Glen Cove is changing every day,” he said, “and with the developments happening in Village Square, it’s going to be big for businesses in the next few years. And we need to be organized to have our seat at the table.”