SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA) — Nestled in the heart of Downtown Springdale, you will find Yanez Alterations. A rhythmic sound of sewing machines, cutting of fabrics, and conversations in Spanish fill the small space where one man’s dreams became reality. Javier Yanez, humbly opened the alterations shop on Emma Avenue in 1988 but it took decades to make it a perfect fit for the community.
When Yanez started his business, he wasn’t a tailor by trade. He worked in a factory after moving to the area from Los Angeles, Cal. in search of a stable job and a better life for his wife and four children. He became one of the first Latinos to alter the area’s landscape as an influx of migrants also made their way from the West Coast to Northwest Arkansas in the late 80s through the 90s.
“I moved here for my 5-year-old daughter. She was very smart at a young age. That’s why we moved from Los Angeles to here, for her education. Now she’s 27 and an electrical engineer,” said Yanez.
What led him to become a tailor all started at a laundromat when he witnessed a tense conversation between a client and the owner over a bad alternation. He spoke with the client and on a whim told her he would help her repair her clothes and would make sure she was his first customer when he opened his own alteration shop. With only the basic sewing skills passed on to him by his mother and a heart full of determination, he leased a building on Emma Avenue and names it Yanez Alterations.
“Here, I found mentors, and fully learned,” says Yanez.
30 years ago, his shop was one of about 10 Latino-owned businesses in the area. With a bit of sadness, Yanez describes the discrimination and harassment he faced by people in the community when he first opened the alterations shop. He says he was denied a business license and failed inspections a few times while he was trying to begin his businesses. His perseverance finally paid off to open his doors to the Springdale and Northwest Arkansas community.
“And I’m still here,” Yanez says, laughingly.
Every stitch made in his workshop has contributed to the fabric of Springdale, binding the Latino entrepreneurial spirit to Northwest Arkansas and strengthening a growing economy. He’s kept the same employees for the last 15 years Today, out of Springdale’s 3,063 businesses, 700 are minority-owned.
“We have a huge success story just in those numbers. How do we continue to make those 700 more successful? That’s the magic we haven’t figured out yet. And, how do grow that to 800 or 1,000?” questions Perry Webb, President and CEO of the Springdale Chamber of Commerce
Webb believes bias and a lack of communication still limit the prosperity of Latino owned businesses.
“The services that small business normally need are not being delivered very efficiently to minority businesses. That is something the chamber is actively working on. How do we do this?” says Webb.
For Yanez, whose client base is 90-percent Caucasian, it’s about altering perceptions and treating people with respect. As he looks toward retirement, he’s happy to see more Latinos fitting into the community. He visits with owners of other minority-owned businesses and offers mentorship to keep their business afloat knowing the difficult journey of entrepreneurship. He enjoys seeing traffic on Emma Avenue and proud his contributions and those of other Latinos have made their mark in Northwest Arkansas.
“There’s business here and there and over there. It helps a lot,” says Yanez.
For more Celebrating Hispanic Heritage stories, visit KNWA’s Hidden History page.