'It's a jungle out there.' Pueblo business women show grit, resolve amid COVID turmoil

Tracy Harmon
The Pueblo Chieftain

A new study indicates women-owned businesses could be bearing the brunt of the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Business Resiliency During COVID-19 report compiled by the accounting software firm Freshbooks, on average, women-owned businesses indicate they are taking nearly three times longer to recover from the financial setbacks compared to male-owned businesses. So the Pueblo Chieftain asked some of Pueblo’s business women if they anticipate a similar trend.

“I am not sure,” said Carla Barela, CEO and president of Cortez Construction. “We’ve just been so busy trying to stay alive, so I don’t know if we are faster or slower than others.

"I don’t know if there is a good answer for that, but I do know it is a jungle out there. It is dead serious,” Barela said.

Carla Barela

Cortez Construction has been in business since 1972 when Albino Cordova and Eugene Mares founded the home building company. Barela joined six years later as a partner and the company has grown to encompass commercial projects.

“I am just so busy trying to catch up I don’t notice it because we have to do it no matter what. Some people will say it (the pandemic) made them work harder,” she said.

Her motto is don’t give up.

“Just plug, plug and hit it and hit it and hit it. Don’t care what anybody else says,” Barela said.

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Sadie Cordova of Riverwalk Florist has a similar philosophy.

“It’s all in your mindset — the determination to make it work. I know COVID has hurt a lot of businesses and we are all going through some really tough times psychologically, physically and mentally,” Cordova said.

Cordova has been able to survive in the floral business thanks to her ability to take online orders. But she also credits some advice from her father with helping her stay in business.

“My father was a businessman and he always said make sure you save for a rainy day — put it away, don’t overspend. When you get into business you have to plan for things like this,” Cordova said.

“Go to work everyday and have a good work ethic. I have worked 18 hours a day some days — you do it, you figure it out."

She said sometimes women feel they can’t succeed in business because they are faced with a lot of obstacles such as being responsible for child care.

Cindy Reyes of Cinfully Delicious admits running a business has been a struggle during the pandemic as much of her catering business is dependent upon large gatherings of customers. With public health orders limiting gathering sizes, it could take longer for her to bounce back.

“We opened up for curbside pickup at the Eagles” Lodge at 1615 S. Prairie," Reyes said. “The tamale season got us through Christmas and now the catering is starting to pick up."

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Cindy Reyes of Cinfully Delicious Catering at 1615 S. Prairie Avenue.

She said while it looks like her business will survive, she knows of several in Pueblo that have not reopened.

“It’s been really a struggle and I feel bad for them,” Reyes said.

She said she works to apply for grants that can help and understands why some business owners don’t do that.

“The paperwork is unbelievable and I am not the best at computers,” she said.

Dawn Thompson at Karmic Konnections, 125 Abriendo, said her business is not having trouble rebounding. Her metaphysical business offers incense, oils, herbs, candles, crystals and books.

“We actually have been doing decent, but it might be the type of store I have. It is a metaphysical store so a lot of people are going over to the natural remedies and wanting to learn about herbs,” Thompson said.

Dawn Thompson of Karmic Konnections, 125 Abriendo, said she has added protective plexiglass and took advantage of payroll protection offered early on during the pandemic to keep her business operational.

Thompson's business also was able to get aid in the beginning of the pandemic but, “we really haven’t had a big problem bouncing back.”

“I am very, very fortunate and so thankful that our industry as a whole, while it has been affected, has not been hit as hard as other industries,” she said. “I know there are a lot of business owners who are struggling.” 

Stephanie Baca of 10 Spot, 125 S. Union, said she was closed for six weeks early on during the pandemic but has been able to stay open since. She said the fact that her business is a one-woman show without employees has helped her rebound as has a city grant and participation in Supporting Pueblo.

All the women agree there is a light at the end of the tunnel as vaccines are rolled out.

“You’ve just got to hang in there — stay focused,” Cordova said. “Things are going to change and it’s going to go crazy when it does.”

Chieftain reporter Tracy Harmon covers business and Fremont County news. She can be reached by email at tharmon@chieftain.com or via Twitter at twitter.com/tracywumps.