Councilman Peter Leroe-Munoz and the Downtown Business Association are looking for ways to bridge the gap between the two types of businesses in Gilroy – those given the label of “white” and “Latino” by consumers.
In a plan unofficially dubbed the Hispanic Business Outreach Program, the DBA is out to create a more unified downtown between Latino and white business owners.
“The diversity in Gilroy is an asset, and can be marketed that way. Business owners of both cultures need to be working together,” said Amber Madrone, owner of Mango Street Kids and DBA president.
At their last meeting on Oct. 2, the DBA appointed Jose Montes, downtown property owner and owner of J&F Enterprises, an investment company, to its board – a move that Madrone is excited about.
“We’re looking forward to his ability to build bridges and his connections in the Hispanic community,” Madrone said.
Attempts to reach Montes were not successful before print deadline.
Montes joins Eric Howard in being the second Spanish-speaking DBA board member.
Madrone said that her goal as the board’s president is to have more communication between all business owners in Gilroy, regardless of culture – to share information, ideas and work together on events.
Addressing the fact that more than half of Gilroy’s 50,000 population identify themselves as Hispanic, according to U.S. Census data, Madrone said that it’s “silly” to only cater a business to one cultural group or the other.
“If you’re a business and you’re not marketing to Hispanics, or vice versa, you are missing out on half your market,” Madrone said. “As a business owner, why would you want to cut out half your market?”
Madrone said she has heard a few complaints about downtown from white people who wish there were more “cute boutiques instead of what we have.” And Madrone agrees, partially: She would love more boutiques – but she doesn’t think that the piñata store, or the Mexican bakery, for example, detract from downtown.
“If people could just embrace a little diversity, I think they’d find that they have a lot to offer,” she said.
She said it’s also important that business owners aren’t alienating half of Gilroy’s population by not actively working to earn and keep the business of their opposite cultural group – and that goes both ways.
Leroe-Munoz, after hearing the same complaints from his constituents, recently held a meeting with a group of white and Latino business owners to talk about how they can improve communication lines to better business in downtown and beyond.
“The whole point of the meeting was to discuss this notion, whether real or perceived, that in Gilroy there seems to be two types of businesses. You have Latino businesses and you have non-Latino businesses – and they don’t interact,” Leroe-Munoz said.
At this informal meeting with a handful of Gilroy business owners such as Montes, Eric Howard of Bruce’s Tires, and Sig Sanchez, former Gilroy mayor, Leroe-Munoz said they brainstormed ways to improve communication between Latino and white business owners.
“For starters, we talked about getting (the DBA) to better reflect the diversity of the city,” he said. “We talked about how to improve outreach to try and educate Latino business owners in how to get involved.”
Gary Walton, downtown property owner and downtown business advocate, said it’s important for Gilroy to embrace its inherent diversity, especially in downtown.
“I think a downtown should represent who you are as a community. It’s your history, it’s your people. I think downtown should represent all aspects of your people – not just part of it,” Walton said. “When people come to visit a downtown, they want to experience that community for what it is, not half of it.”
Walton said the addition of Montes to the DBA board is a “great move in the right direction,” in helping to unify downtown.
“Downtown should be place where people can come a try new things and enjoy different cultures,” he said.
Walton hopes to attract a blend of many types of ethnic restaurants to downtown to further merge the cultural divide in Gilroy.
“You can start to bridge gaps over food. Breaking bread with other people – it’ s a great way to set the tone for the rest of downtown,” he said.