Elsy Gomez is the proud business owner of Equinox, a one-stop-shop for all events and parties in the Fruitvale. Like many of the more than 400 entrepreneurs in the Fruitvale, Elsy is an immigrant from Ecuador and single mother. Elsy found the tools and resources she needed to thrive through working with the Fruitvale Business Improvement District, including getting connected to a unique partnership between The Unity Council and Kiva loans.
A few years before opening Equinox, Elsy operated a similar business called Party Solutions in the Laurel District in Oakland; she had to close and work from home after her mother had a stroke and the medical bills absorbed her savings account.
In 2015, Elsy re-launched her business, with a new name and a new location: Equinox, in the Fruitvale District. Elsy was thrilled about working in Fruitvale because she knew the neighborhood was predominately Latino and she looked forward to working with people in her native language.
But it wasn’t a straight shot to success, she needed additional help. Elsy’s business was struggling, and she needed to learn how to grow her capacity while keeping her costs low.
During one of the monthly BID meetings for all local merchants, Elsy learned about Kiva, a crowd-funding nonprofit lending website. Kiva makes it easy for everyday people to lend small amounts of money to micro-businesses. The recipients of the loans can pay back the loan, interest-free, over several years. Elsy applied for the loan with the hope of purchasing inventory for her business to grow her capacity. But she struggled to pass the first stage of the loan where family and friends were asked to lend her money through Kiva’s website; this stopped her from moving up to the second stage, where anyone can lend money to the small business owner. It took three tries for Elsy to pass to the second stage. It was not until she asked other BID merchants to help that she got the mini loans required to pass to the second stage of the program. “We all helped each other move on to the next level by donating to each other’s projects.”
Today Elsy and her business keep growing stronger! According to Elsy, the Fruitvale Business Improvement District (BID) has been essential in helping her grow her business. “The BID gives you information about resources the community does not have access to. For me, it was a window to grow my business and become part of the [Fruitvale] merchants’ community.” Her business works as a subcontractor for big events with Event Magic, and she has also decorated International Boulevard for many festivals. Did you ever see the giant balloon arches on International Boulevard during the 5 de Mayo Festival? That was all Elsy’s business! We admire Elsy for her determination and her love for the Fruitvale community; she is always sharing information about the many resources she learns about with other business owners. Her adaptability to change, curiosity to learn new things, and positive attitude has helped her thrive despite many challenges. She reminds us that, “if you tell yourself you can, then you can.”