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Small-business owner keeps Mexican art store alive for 20 years

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When people walk into La Sirena in New York City’s East Village, they’re either looking for a very specific piece of Mexican culture, or they’ve stumbled upon its captivating menagerie by chance.

In a city with increasingly expensive rent, it’s clear that owner Dina Leor, who is Argentine-American, doesn’t take her real estate for granted. Inside, she makes use of every square inch to display thousands of pieces she collects, primarily handmade by artisans in Mexico. There are colorful paper banners (papel picado), Frida Kahlo ornaments, altar candles, and Día de Los Muertos skulls (calaveras).

Leor has been in business for 20 years, despite almost losing her store to exorbitant rents. The median annual rent for a storefront in the East Village is $132 per square foot, according to 42Floors. Leor declined to share how much she pays in rent. 

Leor said she had no idea what she was doing when she started a small business in 1999, and she still does many things the same. She does her own accounting on a lined notebook, doesn’t have an online store, and has never kept inventory. She went to art school, not business school. Customers may be attracted to her shop for the bright colors and array of pieces, but they stay for Leor’s knowledge of Mexican culture and passion for supporting local artisans.

Latino-owned businesses like Leor’s have become a major asset to the US economy. According to a study by the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Latino-owned businesses contribute more than $700 billion to the economy each year. A Biz2Credit study also found that more Latinos in the US are applying for small-business loans and shrinking the funding gap.

Business Insider visited her store to find out how she turned her devotion to Mexican art into a brick-and-mortar that keeps people coming back. 

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