Veronica Reyes Spindola contributed to this blog.
The Cuban population in Columbus, Nebraska, is booming. As an immigration paralegal, Ana Villegas has seen this community grow firsthand, and she and her husband, Jesus Ramos, decided they wanted to find a way to help these newcomers feel at home.
The couple believe there is no better way to offer a warm welcome than by bringing a taste of home to town. In July 2018, they opened Palmeras Cuban Store, a grocery specializing in Hispanic produce, pastries, snacks, meats, and seafood, and other goods.
“We saw a need for this kind of business in Columbus,” said Ana. “We wanted to bring in certain products to meet the needs of the community. I also wanted to create my own employment and create employment for others.”
Ana was prepared for her business ownership journey, as she had previously taken a training course with the Center for Rural Affairs focusing on creating a business plan, an entrepreneurship workshop, and other business courses. The Center also provided Ana and Jesus with a start-up loan to help them buy equipment for the store.
Veronica Reyes Spindola, Latino loan specialist with the Center, helped the couple with their loan application, and has given them one-on-one business counseling in person, online, and over the phone.
“I am amazed how they have penetrated the market and have grown their business so quickly,” said Veronica. “Everybody in town speaks highly of their customer service, their products, and their kindness. I can't wait to see the moment when they buy their own building and grow even more.”
Veronica was alongside the couple as they started in their first location, which housed grocery items in the front of the store, managed by Jesus, with Ana’s home-based paralegal business in the back office. After only a few months, Ana gave up her office space to make more room for items to sell, and in July 2021, they moved Palmeras Cuban Store to a larger location to keep up with the needs of the community.
The Center also provided Ana with COVID-19 relief funds, which has helped the establishment continue to grow.
“They have been bringing new products to Columbus each month, incorporating new equipment like bigger freezers, displays, an espresso machine, and even their own trucks to haul products from Florida and Illinois,” Veronica said.
In her spare time, Ana still uses her paralegal skills to help clients with their immigration documents, but running the store keeps her, Jesus, and their employees busy.
Ana says business has been steady, and appreciates all the help she has received from the Center this far.
“The Center staff is excellent,” she said. “I have always received answers to my questions and concerns. It’s an excellent resource for small businesses. They help people learn and start new businesses, especially in the Latino community, and they offer fast and wonderful service.”
To learn about financing your business and apply for a loan, click here.
At a glance
2029 23rd St., Columbus, Nebraska 68601
Hours: Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.