MCALLEN, Texas – For the sixth year in a row, the City of McAllen and LiftFund have renewed their partnership to provide zero percent interest loans to small businesses in the city.

Marlene Rodriguez, market director for LiftFund, joined Rio Grande Guardian International News Service Editor Steve Taylor in a Zoom call to discuss the renewal and the nonprofit’s impact in the region.

As a community development financial institution (CDFI), LiftFund offers loans to small business owners and entrepreneurs who cannot obtain capital through a traditional financial institution. The organization has loaned over $39 million to small businesses in the area since opening its Rio Grande Valley office in 1998. McAllen accounts for $28 million of these loans, with 129 businesses having received an average of $29,000. Of the programs with a zero percent interest rate, LiftFund has provided $3.7 million in partnership with the City of McAllen.

Rodriguez says she is glad to continue working with the City of McAllen and explained that the program has helped many businesses flourish in the community. 

“This is creating new jobs,” said Rodriguez. “This is attracting new businesses into town. This is attracting people to come and shop here in the City of McAllen, so this is an excellent program. And, again, I thank the city for allowing us an opportunity to partner up with them so that we can be able to offer this (sic) zero percent interest loans to small businesses.”

LiftFund can loan between $500 to $500,000 to businesses. Individuals that operate or want to open a small business in McAllen and who are not able to acquire a loan through commercial lending, are eligible for the zero-interest program. 

Though she hopes to collaborate with other cities in the future, Rodriguez says LiftFund can still help residents outside of McAllen. She encourages people to visit their website and submit their applications online. Even if someone has been denied for a loan, Rodriguez says they will explain the reason for the denial and work with the individual so that they can revisit the application at a future date.

For businesses that have received loans, Rodriguez says LiftFund offers further assistance on a variety of topics, from creating business plans to managing employees.

“We also provide them with the technical support – the technical assistance – that this individual needs in order for them to continue growing,” said Rodriguez. 

Millys


One such individual was Milly Chirino.

Born in Weslaco and raised in Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas, Chirino was always interested in fashion. After graduating from college, getting married and having a baby, she quit her job to focus on raising her child. When her husband transferred to Phoenix, Arizona for work, the family moved. It was there that Chirino entered a shoe store that inspired her to start her own business.  

With a budget of $300, Chirino created Millys Boutique in 2010, selling women’s shoes, accessories and clothing through her Facebook page. By word-of-mouth, the business grew exponentially, and Chirino sought to open a brick-and-mortar store back home. Family members invested in her business plan, and in November 2013, she was able to open Millys, her first boutique in downtown McAllen.

Two years later, Chirino opened a second location in Mercedes. While tending the store, Chirino was approached by Rodriguez to see if LiftFund could be of any service to her. Though she did not need help at that time, she reconnected with Rodriguez after closing the Mercedes location and deciding to open Millys Glam across from her original boutique in McAllen. 

“She helped me tremendously,” said Chirino. “She’s very devoted to her work, too. I really liked that. And, that had opened a lot of doors for me.”

Chirino says that LiftFund helped her with accounting and business strategies and eventually prepared her for opening her third store, Curvy by Millys, a boutique catering exclusively to plus-size women in February 2020. 

When asked what she thinks is the secret to her success, Chirino says that it all comes down to loving what you do.

“I think the key here is that I’m very passionate with what I do,” said Chirino. “I enjoy it so much. To me, it doesn’t really feel like a job.”

Chirino says she personally chooses everything that is sold in her stores and strives to give her customers the best shopping experience that she can.

“My team knows. I want every girl that comes in here to feel like they’re in their closet, comfortable,” said Chirino. “The store has to smell nice; it has to be clean; it has to be organized. They have to be treated nice so it’s a good experience.”

Above all, though, Chirino says her affordable prices are the biggest draw.

“There’s a saying in Spanish which is ‘bueno, bonito, y barato,’ said Chirino. “So, it’s good; it’s affordable; and it’s pretty. I think that’s a very important thing. The way we present our shoes, the way we take our pictures, the way we do our photo sessions, the way we maintain our stores – when you come in here, you feel like ‘oh my God, these shoes are going to be very expensive’ because of the way you’re getting the service, … and they’re surprised they’re only $15, all the shoes. I think that’s our strategy.”

Chirino expressed her gratitude to Rodriguez and LiftFund for all their guidance and financial backing, and implored other small business owners and entrepreneurs in the Valley to seek them out.

“LiftFund I think is something that every small business owner should know about,” said Rodriguez. “… It’s very, very good help. They also give a great service, and thanks to them, hard work, and all that, we’re opening our fourth location already.”

For more information about LiftFund, you can visit their website or contact Marlene Rodriguez at 956-299-2551.

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