Carlos Barcenas contributed to this blog.
Alma Sagastume knows a thing or two about running a business. For years, she ran her own shop in Guatemala before moving to Nebraska, where she has owned and operated My 15 City for the better part of a decade.
Specializing in quinceañera dresses with party decorations to accompany them, My 15 City is similar to the event-planning business Alma ran back home and her sister continues to operate today.
“We would work with artificial and natural flowers, sell dresses, and work on decorations,” said Alma. “So, when I came to Nebraska, I thought, ‘Why not do the same thing that we've done in Guatemala? We know it works.’”
Since August 2013, Alma has catered to the Latino community in Columbus, Nebraska, as well as to anyone else wanting decor and attire for their celebrations.
“We are seeing more American girls wanting to celebrate their 15th birthday instead of their sweet 16,” said Alma. “They see and hear about it from their Latino friends at school and in the community, and we're starting to see more of them wanting to do the same.”
My 15 City’s busy season is during the warmer months, as the snow and cold of winter mean fewer celebrations take place. When the peak of the coronavirus pandemic hit during Alma’s slow season, keeping the doors open became more difficult, so she reached out for help.
Prior to the pandemic, she received two business loans from the Center for Rural Affairs. And, during 2020, staff regularly checked in with Alma to see if she needed any additional financial assistance or business counseling. She knew she could count on them for help when she needed it most.
Raul Arcos Hawkins, business development specialist with the Center, informed Alma of special financing made available at the beginning of 2021. He helped her apply for and receive a COVID-19 relief grant administered by the Center, with funds provided by Wells Fargo.
He said Alma had a hard time adjusting to COVID-19 measures because her business is based around event planning, and large gatherings weren’t allowed at that time.
During 2020 and into 2021, most, if not all, of Alma’s reservations were canceled or postponed. Although some have now rescheduled, some of the 2020 summer styles Alma had were already out of fashion.
“She had inventory she purchased that she couldn't use or that she had invested in because of the reservations and how booked she was,” said Raul. “When it came to returning deposits, it was difficult. For her, it was a great challenge as she was behind on rent, also due to the lack of sales and revenue.”
With the grant money, Alma was able to catch up on rent, pay invoices, and buy new inventory.
Even with the hardships caused by the pandemic, Alma continues to do everything she can to expand her business and grow as an entrepreneur. She takes training courses and keeps up on what trends and themes are in style so she’s able to give her customers exactly what they want for their celebrations.
As she moves forward with her business goals, Alma has come to trust and rely on the Center.
“The Center helped me keep my business open so I can continue serving my community,” she said. “They have been great people to work with—every time I have questions, they’re able to answer them.”
Alma urges other small business owners to reach out to Center staff if they find themselves in need of help.
“I’m very happy with the service, and I recommend them to others,” she haid. “The Center is a good place to start to answer their questions or see if they qualify for a loan to grow their business.”
At a glance
My 15 City, LLC
2476 32nd Ave., Columbus, Nebraska 68601
Hours: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.