Grand Island business owner receives Entrepreneur Award


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Carmen Montes and Carlos Barcenas contributed to this story.

Maria Dolores Arias Villalpando’s business savvy and warm nature have helped her turn her business, Laundry Mex, in Grand Island, Nebraska, into a welcoming place for customers and a thriving business center for her tenants.

Because of her dedication to her business and to being a property manager and role model to other entrepreneurs, Maria has been chosen to receive the Center for Rural Affairs 2023 Entrepreneur Award.

The award recognizes those who have received Center services and achieved remarkable success in business while demonstrating the values of innovation, community leadership, and social responsibility.

Maria ran the laundromat for more than eight years before becoming its owner. She also ran a food establishment inside the laundromat. When she began to consider buying the building and the business, Maria reached out to Center staff for advice on loan options and what her next steps should be.

“After five long years of working with Maria and having to take care of some personal issues, we finally made it happen,” said Kim Preston, lending services director with the Center. “The previous owner appreciated all the years Maria had worked for him and how well she had kept the business running. He decided to wait for her until she could purchase the business/building from him.”

The Laundry Mex building is home to several storefronts in addition to the laundromat, including the small restaurant Maria used to run. Her daughter-in-law runs that business now. Maria’s son works out of another storefront, sending packages to other countries. A hair salon, boutique, an African market, and more occupy the other storefronts.

Laundry Mex is on a busy street in Grand Island, near many minority- and Latino-owned small businesses. 

“We have many clients who walk here with their laundry baskets, and this is a welcoming place, so people come in and take advantage of the services,” Maria said. “It's also a place where people come to just relax, meet new people, and it's a spot where they can sit and chat. My favorite part is when the kids walk home from school; they stop in and buy snacks and spend time with me for a little bit.”

Maria has attended several of the Center’s training sessions and has met with Center staff several times to discuss insurance, taxes, and recordkeeping.

Staff members doing their annual site visit discovered that she has already made several improvements to the inside of the building and has a great relationship with her tenants and customers.

Maria hopes to remodel more extensively inside and outside of the building and add new washing machines. She feels ready to tackle new projects and takes great pride in her work.

“People are seeing the effort I make as the owner of the business and recognizing the value of the work I do,” she said. “When I found out I was receiving the award, I felt tremendously happy and very proud. I was on vacation visiting my family in Mexico, so it was even more special because I had that moment to share with them.”

Maria was presented her award at a community gathering on March 8, which coincided with a Center for Rural Affairs Board of Directors meeting.

Click here to learn more about Maria and her business.