Small Businesses In Puerto Rico Won’t Be The Same, But They’re Surviving

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Small businesses in Puerto Rico are refusing to give up hope in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Alessandra Correa, a San Juan business owner, has been encouraging small businesses across Puerto Rico to fight for their businesses despite the island’s loss of telecommunications, running water, and electricity.

According to a 2016 survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, up to 80% of private sector workers in Puerto Rico were employed by small businesses.

“We have to fight,” said Correa to NPR. “Fight for our businesses, for our employees and our economy. Giving up is not an option.”

Correa is the founder of a startup company called Inprende, which aims to help entrepreneurs and small businesses feel inspired to succeed and to get themselves moving. Correa’s business is busier now more than ever after Hurricane Maria forced many entrepreneurs to close up shop. However, rather than charging her customers as she usually would, Correa is giving her advice to business owners for free.

Among them is Jose Sanchez, a 28-year-old chef and owner of restaurant Pera Maraya. The restaurant, located east of San Juan, had been seeing great success with five-star reviews on Trip Advisor, Facebook, and Yelp.

“Everything was going perfect,” said Sanchez. “Then the storm hit.”

The havoc Maria wreaked on Sanchez’s restaurant was fixable. But the significant after-effects of the storm were what caused him to lay off his staff and close up.

Up to three million people are still without power in Puerto Rico and one million are without running water. The lack of running water has driven many to drink from waters in Puerto Rico’s Superfund site, which is incredibly toxic. For instance, the pH level necessary for growing most plants in a hydroponic environment is 5.5 to 6. The pH level of the waters in Superfund sites have been known to reach up to 12.5.

The IDSA has also issued a disease warning for those in Puerto Rico as flood waters begin to still, but many are still unable to access medications and medical care. This is especially dangerous for those with limited immune systems. This includes those over the age of 60 who are five times more likely to need CPAP machines with heated humidification.

Still, Correa is urging the small business owners like Sanchez to se levanta – get up. “You can cook,” she said to Sanchez. “You’re still alive, right?” She proceeded to invite him to sell his pop-up cuisine in her office. “Go ahead,” she said.

While some are using Correa’s office for its Wifi and others for its power generator, Sanchez is now cooking up eggs and fried steak for workers in the hopes of raising $5,000 to start over with a food truck. Despite the fact that many of Sanchez’s customers have left the island and others don’t have the money to pay for the restaurant’s original high-quality meals, Sanchez believes he can still succeed.

Up to 80% of Americans report feeling special when receiving flowers, but many also feel special when eating some of their favorite comfort foods. Sanchez intends to use that to his advantage by selling lower-cost, but still high-quality comfort foods such as his steak and eggs.

His efforts echo the words of Arnaldo Cruz, the Foundation for Puerto Rico’s director of research and analytics. “Just don’t close,” said Cruz. “Don’t surrender.”