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When family, culture and tradition meet consistency

Wichita Kansas | April 6, 2024

By Claudia Amaro

When Leticia Vargas opened La Pasadita in 2002, the boutique was one of a few Latino businesses operating in south Wichita. Now the area is bustling with Spanish-language=friendly businesses, and La Pasadita is thriving. Vargas’ story offers lessons about the challenges facing Latino business owners and how they can be overcome.

Quinceañera dresses  Wichita Kansas - Leticia Vargas - La Pasadita
Leticia Vargas offers a complete service for celebrations of the Latin American traditions. Photo by Selena Favela/KLC

Driving through south Wichita on Harry Street close to Hydraulic Avenue, business signs in Spanish readily catch the eye. But La Pasadita stands out. It has been there for more than 20 years.

When people think of Latino businesses in Wichita, they often think of the north side of town, known as El Norte or the North End. El Norte has historically been a Latino area, because it was populated by railroad workers who arrived at the area in the early 1900s. It also developed important institutions that would serve Spanish speakers.

That started to change in the early 2000s when arriving Latinos began to disperse.

La Pasadita - Leticia Vargas - Quinceañeras
For Leticia Vargas there is nothing more stimulating than seeing her clients leave her business satisfied. Photography by Selena Favela/KLC

Leticia Vargas migrated to the United States from Durango, a northern Mexican state. She first landed in California, where she lived for 20 years.

That is where she started her entrepreneurship journey by selling purses in flea markets.

Vargas decided to move to Wichita in the early 2000s to work in a meatpacking plant.

At first, she did not want to start another business. But it soon became a necessity.

Being a single mother of two girls, she could not support her family with one job. She started selling blankets, ceramics and other goods from her house.

For about a year she would welcome strangers into her house to show them merchandise. Other times she would go to their homes to sell. One afternoon in 2002, she was driving down Harry Street when she saw a vacant building and decided to rent it. When Vargas’ store opened, she added clothing to her product line.

“I believe we were one of the first businesses that began to be established in the south,” Vargas says. “Before, everything for Latinos was on the north side. That was difficult for us. Even when people asked me where my business was, it seemed like it was too far away to come here. But, thank God, more businesses opened, and we are no longer in that position. There are a lot of Latinos also in the south.”

Acculturation, assimilation or simply a new way of living

According to a report from the Kansas Hispanic & Latino American Affairs Commission, as Latinos become familiar with their new surroundings, new traditions and new ways of doing things in the U.S., they begin to incorporate a new approach to life.

Quinceañeras  Wichita Kansas
Picture by Selena Favela/KLC

La Pasadita is not just another boutique. It specializes in quinceañera wear. A quinceañera is the Latin American tradition of celebrating a young girl’s coming of age – her 15th birthday. Forbes states that the average quinceañera costs $21,781 and has 212 guests, a scale of celebration that isn’t unusual in Wichita.

For Latinos, the decision to start a business can be spontaneous, says Frank Choriego, associate director of the Kansas Small Business Development Center at Wichita State University, which serves the central region of the state.

Choriego, who is bilingual, says, in his experience, Latinos tend to be action-oriented and independent.

“Latinos look at the resources at hand and what they can do with it,” he says. “They do not worry about a business plan. They use their instincts more than anything else for their plans and opening the business.”

Over the years, Vargas’ business has weathered several storms, including the Great Recession and the pandemic that started in 2020. The main reason? Consistency.

“There are many businesses that open with great enthusiasm,” she says. But a lack of immediate results can try the patience of Latino business owners: “We wait two or three months and say, ‘No, well there is nothing; it would be better to close it now.’ … When I do something, it is long term. I like to be persistent and wait for results.”

quinceañera dresses Wichita Kansas - Leticia Vargas - La Pasadita
Picture by Selena Favela/KLC

It took Vargas about two years to see positive results in her business. She eventually added more product lines to her business, such as party decorations.

Vargas says that Latino businesses ecosystems are different from others. “We are learning as we go,” she says.

For her, language was a big challenge, because she does not speak much English. Someone had to help her investigate which permits were needed to establish her business. Another challenge she faced was other Latinos taking advantage of people who are looking for help or information, “There are people who suddenly came to offer help, but in the end, they left generating more benefit for them.”

Because they might not know the business culture in the U.S. as well as natives, Choriego says that Latinos can lose opportunities to obtain resources that could help them succeed. Most of the time they have a network of friends, family and acquaintances to offer support in the process – a situation that did not apply in Vargas’ case because she had no family in Wichita. Many times, they lack financial sophistication, limiting them from obtaining the best financing or developing sales outside their community.

Vargas has been able to grow her clientele as more Americans shop for prom dresses and other accessories.

La Pasadita Wichita Kansas
Picture by Selena Favela/KLC

“Americans already realized that we are here, that we exist, and they like it,” she says. “And they also really like our traditions, and that is why they come to places like mine, as our prices are more accessible than other places.”

Community support is vital for keeping her business alive, Vargas says. She knows that many people like to travel to bigger cities to look for quinceañera dresses, and she wishes more people would support local businesses instead. In her opinion, people do not have to travel far to find something nice.

While one of her biggest dreams is to expand her store to other locations, she loves what she does. She feels energized when she delivers a dress or when she sees the happy faces of her clients after decorating a place. She describes herself as a servant leader. Her advice for people wanting to start a business is to find something that motivates them.“Look for something that you really like – that you are enthusiastic about. Because when challenging times come, the love for your work will keep you going. That is what makes you get up every day and start again.”

Choriego invites people who want to start a business to be curious, to look for help. Many universities and colleges, including WSU, have programs to help Latino entrepreneurs, often with materials and assistance in Spanish. City and state offices also provide education and advice to help Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs.

“Ask, ask and ask! Do not make assumptions without investigating. Do not be embarrassed or afraid to approach organizations to find out how they can help Latino entrepreneurs,” Choriego says.

La Pasadita is a boutique in Wichita, Kansas that specializes in quinceañera wear. The owner, Leticia Vargas, is a Mexican immigrant who started her business in 2002. La Pasadita has weathered several storms, including the Great Recession and the pandemic, and has grown to be a successful business. Vargas attributes her success to consistency, community support, and finding something she is passionate about. She encourages other Latinos who want to start a business to find something they love and be persistent.

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