Pandemic isolation sparks entrepreneurial spirit for El Pasoans


Cindy (left) and Nikki Borrego-Hogan launched their online shop BoHoma Scent as a hobby during quarantine. Photo credit: Estefania Morales Mitre

When Felix Fajardo lost his job working for an El Paso car dealership, he used Facebook and Instagram to promote his services. Now he takes his truck with a 375-gallon water tank and electric generators to his clients and operates as a mobile detailing and car wash service.

“It was hard to find a job again. I took what I learned and became my own boss,” he said.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic a number of people in the U.S. lost their jobs or saw their work hours reduced. Others found new ways to spend their time as they stayed isolated at home. This led to an increase in people pursuing new career paths – some even started their own businesses.

According to the U.S. Census, in 2020 there were 552,981 applications for starting a new business by July of that year. That is a 96% increased compared to the previous year.The pace of applications for new businesses since mid-2020 is the highest on record (earliest data available is 2004), according to a report for the National Bureau of Associate of Economic Research that analyzed Business Formation Statistics compiled by the US Census Bureau.

El Pasoan, Ammie “Mimi” Alvarez, opened Sunny Folds, an online thrift shop. Before the pandemic, she was a full-time student, studying education at the University of Texas at El Paso. When she got pregnant in 2020, she decided to create her own job to bring some extra income in for her family, while still taking precautions not to be exposed to the coronavirus.

Sunny Folds started as an Instagram page where Alvarez said she posted “modern and vintage pieces at a reasonable price.” It quickly grew to the point that she started shipping to clients as far away as the East Coast.

“I am surprised to have made over 300 sales in less than a year. I’ve had customers from places out of the state as well, such as Washington D.C. and New York. I have frequent customers too, which is amazing to me,” Alvarez said.

Social media has been a crucial tool for the small business owner to promote their products and services without leaving the house.

Leonel Romero, strategist and innovation consultant at Accenture, an international business and technology consulting company said building a digital presence and opening an online store is not new for larger retail companies.

“From 2010, and all the way through like 2015, There was a lot of digital disruption with a lot of companies, especially those in retail,” Romero said.

But now, the pandemic has been a catalyst for more small businesses to emerge on digital platforms.

“Social media and word of mouth is powerful. So, we’ve been using a lot of social media,” said Nikki Borrego-Hogan, who started a business with her wife Cindy called BoHoma Scent Co, a candle and air freshener shop.

While the power of social media fueled these entrepreneurs’ small businesses as Covid-19 restrictions ease, some are starting to move toward more in-person settings as the pandemic eases.

Small businesses take precautions when attending local markets.

Small businesses take precautions when attending local markets. Photo credit: Estefania Morales Mitre

That’s the case for Salma Atiya, owner of Purse Find, who is now using her mother’s storefront in addition to having a website that sells purses for frugal fashion fans.

“One of my biggest goals has been to make sure that [I] personally sell is below $50… If a purse, ends up being $50, it must be like this huge, they must offer a lot to the customer,” Atiya said.

Through her enterprise, Atiya hopes to bring fashion at an affordable price now by going to local markets and shipping nationwide.

Similar to Atiya, Cindy and Nikki Borrego-Hogan have also started visiting local farmers and art markets with their candles and air fresheners.

“People have been really supportive. El Paso is awesome for small businesses. We all just come out and bring our stuff and people come in and support us,” Nikki Borrego-Hogan said.

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