Crossing borders: Fulfilling the dry cleaning dream

May 23, 2012, 3:43 p.m.

Candido starts a new cycle of clothes in his new machine. He has been working in the dry cleaning business for over 20 years and now owns his establishment. (Credit: Brian De Los Santos/OnCentral)

The heat of the day forces Candido to turn on the air conditioner of his white 1998 Astro van full blast. He is driving around downtown Los Angeles to pick up clothes from stores and regular folks.

At the second stop, the manager tries to barter the cost of having a wedding dress dry-cleaned. "That much?" the employee questions Candido in Spanish. "I thought it was less."

Candido tells him they will talk about the price later. Then, he grabs the bag of clothes and heads back to his dry-cleaning business on Main Street in South L.A.

Candido is part of the 28 percent of immigrant entrepreneurs or business owners in the United States, according to the Kauffman Foundation.

Rob Fairlie, professor at the University of California-Santa Cruz and author of a study at the foundation, told CNN that Hispanics are establishing new businesses at a faster rate than other ethnic groups.

Census data shows that 35,000 of L.A.'s population was born out of the United States.

"Hispanic entrepreneurs are driving economic development, and their enterprises are creating jobs and helping lead the country out of recession," DeVere Kutscher, chief of staff at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, told CNN.

Candido had established his business before the recession, and although the economic downfall shook the dry-cleaner's finances, he said, he still has a vast clientele.

He started his business in South L.A. about eight years ago, after working for various employers. He purchased machines and furniture through credit and loans, which he had friends co-sign, to get things running because of his immigration status. Now, he has corporate and local customers, and also employs three others.

"I always dreamt of having a business. I would wake up at 5 a.m. or 4 a.m., work until 11 p.m. or 12 a.m.," he said. "That's how I have accomplished it."

However, all of his experience came from working in Mexico, about 20 years ago.

"Well, when I came from Mexico, I already knew about the dry-cleaners business," he said. "I dreamed of coming to work [in the U.S.] in exactly that."

It hasn't been easy, he said, but gives God much of the credit for his success in the United States. "He is the one who gives me strength to continue," he said.

At about 4 p.m., Candido packs his van with clothes – the railings inside the vehicle make it easier for him to organize them.

He explains logistical orders to Sebastian, one of his employees. Sebastian says he'll take care of the cleaners while he is gone.

Before Candido can hop on the white Astro, a customer comes in and they greet each other in Spanish. After a long conversation, Candido heads out.

The van travels south on Main, crossing 42nd Place, just like Candido crossed borders to fulfill his dream of running a dry-cleaners.

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