Marisa’s Fashion is a model for west-side Hispanic-owned businesses

Story and photos by JACOB RUEDA

Hispanic-owned businesses in Salt Lake City are becoming the staple in the local economic landscape. The rise of such businesses began in the early to mid-1980s and has become prevalent due to the influx of people migrating from other states and other countries. U.S. Census Bureau data from 2019 says Hispanics or Latinos are the largest non-white ethnic group in the city.

Despite their growing numbers in Salt Lake City, the presence of Hispanics is not as commonplace compared to places like Los Angeles or Houston. While Hispanic-owned businesses in those cities are typical in their local economies, their impact went unrecognized in Salt Lake City until recently.

Marisa’s Fashion was one of the first Hispanic-owned businesses in Salt Lake City. The store is located at 67 W. 1700 South.

“Marisa’s Fashion is one of the first Hispanic-owned stores in Salt Lake City,” says Refugio Perez, a local business owner and entrepreneur who started the clothing and general retail store 40 years ago. After arriving from California and receiving settlement money from a work-related injury, he started Perez Enterprises and created Marisa’s Fashion from it, naming the store after one of his children.

“It is the only one that is still in business out of an initial group of five stores that were established,” Perez says in Spanish.

The store located at 67 W. 1700 South has had the support of the Hispanic community from the beginning. Although at the time the Hispanic population in Salt Lake City was small, people around the Wasatch Front and other states knew of Marisa’s Fashion and came to shop there.

“We started to grow quickly because there weren’t that many places and people were limited as to where they could shop,” Perez says. “We had people from as far as Ogden, Park City and Wendover [Nevada] coming to our store so it worked out for us and we were able to grow our business.”

Refugio Perez is the founder of Perez Enterprises. He started Marisa’s Fashion in the early to mid-1980s.

Marisa’s Fashion grew as a result of demand but also from knowing the responsibilities of running a store. One of the challenges in today’s business world is lacking that knowledge. Perez says some Hispanic entrepreneurs today go in ambitiously without being aware of basic operational skills.

“Nowadays, someone starts a business and they do it without knowing the basics of how to start or run a business,” he says. Aside from the legal and financial responsibilities, staying on top of technological advancements in the digital age is essential in today’s market.

“There have been a lot of professional Hispanic businesses of late and that’s why they are important tools for success,” Perez says.

The longevity of Hispanic-owned businesses is determined by the ability to overcome obstacles. Perez says it has not always been easy staying on track, especially in times of a national crisis.

“9/11 really affected us,” Perez says. “I felt at that time that the State of Utah was the last to get hit economically because of what happened in New York.” An analysis from online small business website The Balance says the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, caused a recession at the time to worsen. Perez decided to hand over responsibility of Marisa’s Fashion to his brother as a result.

“I told him that if any of the businesses survived, I’d prefer it be his and that’s what happened,” Perez says. Since then, the business has carried on in Salt Lake City’s west side. Economic downturns and other setbacks aside, Hispanic-owned businesses like Marisa’s Fashion and Perez Enterprises continue to grow and establish themselves permanently in the area’s commercial landscape because of the economic and social influence they have.

Aaron Quarnberg, chairman of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, says “understanding the Hispanic business community” is necessary “for any company looking to grow.”

In his welcome letter to the 2019 Hispanic Small Business Summit, Aaron Quarnberg, chairman of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, says “understanding the Hispanic business community” is necessary “for any company looking to grow.” Statistics website Statista reports the buying power of the Hispanic community in the United States is expected to reach $1.7 trillion by the end of 2020. (That figure was calculated before the impact of COVID-19 in March 2020.)

“Latinos are contributing a lot not only with their businesses but with their taxes and it’s something that I think governments should really pay attention to,” says Moises Olivares, a Realtor and author based in Los Angeles, in a Facebook chat. He also says Salt Lake City can learn from cities like Los Angeles by expanding the perception of the Hispanic community as more than just what is propagated through stereotype.

A February 2019 study from the Peterson Institution for International Economics says “Hispanics, especially the foreign born, exhibit higher levels of entrepreneurship than other ethnic groups in the United States.” Despite these findings, Perez from Perez Enterprises says the Hispanic community in Salt Lake City still lacks recognition for its overall economic contribution. 

The Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce helps Hispanic-owned businesses thrive in the local economy while helping them comply with city regulations.

“People like to spend cash,” Perez says. “We know that helps business, even [non-Hispanic] businesses. If they did not have the economic support from the Hispanic community, they wouldn’t be in business.”

Regardless, Salt Lake City’s west-side Hispanic-owned businesses continue in spite of setbacks, crises or perceptions from others. Weathering the ups and downs of the market, cultural shifts, and technological changes helps businesses like Perez Enterprises and Marisa’s Fashion endure for as long as they have.

“When one is patient and is secure in the knowledge that they have to keep at it and keep going,” Perez says, “it becomes important so we can keep fighting and not give up to the last breath.”

Editor’s Note: Read more stories about local entrepreneurs, the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the impact of the Hispanic community in Utah.


As online activity rises, so does Internet crime


Paper, snail mail and telephones are a thing of the past. With the Internet and on-line activity at its peak, criminals have had to evolve with the times. According to the Federal Trade Commission identity theft and fraud cost Americans $1.52 billion last year alone.

And Internet crimes are not just a problem nationally. Salt Lake’s Police Chief, Chris Burbank acknowledges that identity theft is one of the biggest issues as far as crimes go that needs to be solved in Salt Lake.

“Everyone gets upset if someone is shot and killed, but fraud costs more and because no one is dying it doesn’t get the attention of the public. That’s the challenge of the future. It is a failure of a single person if we allow someone to be victimized,” Burbank said in Holly Mullen’s Communications 3660 class, at the University of Utah, February 16th.

These thieves have come up with a plethora of ways to go about stealing money and identities. However, the most common ways of identity fraud involve, surfing the social network, dumpster diving, phis-hing for information, your family and friends and skimming for dollars.

Social networking is a great way to connect with love ones, but it’s also a way that Internet criminals get personal information like age, birthday, and place of employment. A lot of people don’t tear up things like credit card offers and bills from the bank. Crooks will take the information found on those items and use it. Phis-hing is the oldest practice of the five. Phis-hers are the ones who send things to personal emails. These emails will be under the guise of winning something or look like an already familiar website. Both will often direct you to sites that ask for personal information. Often times the scam will look like a refuge in another country asking for help or even a family member asking for help. In fact, family and friends account for half of all fraud cases. Skimming for dollars is where thieves will steal bank and credit information when a debit or credit card used during a gas purchase or ATM withdrawal. It’s called skimming because often times the perpetrator will take small often unnoticeable amounts over a period of time.

Rebecca Jarrett was a victim of both phis-hing and family and friends methods. Jarrett’s grandparents received an email one day indicating that she was in the hospital and needed help to pay some of the medical bills. Her grandparents upon seeing that the email address was in fact hers immediately sent money to the bank account and routing number provided.  A few months later Jarrett tried to contact her grandparents and got no response. Jarrett finally found out from another relative what happened. “They said they were upset that they had sent money that they needed back. They were even more upset that they hadn’t heard from me after they’d sent it,” Jarrett said. Jarrett later reconnected with her relatives after they found out that they had been the victims of an Internet crime. However, the damage had been done.

Jared White (this person’s name has been changed at his request) was a victim of social networking. It was during the chaos of the holidays. White and his wife were out of town visiting one of their children. There had been a charge to his primary credit card for an international plane ticket. The airline had called their home phone to verify the charge, but they weren’t home and because the crook had all the necessary information they approved the purchase. White didn’t realize what happened until a few weeks later when he went to check his account and saw that it was way over their limit.

Fortunately after a talk with his credit card company they removed the charges to his account contingent on him completing a fraud report. Unfortunately the villain was never caught. As long as they got their money that neither the credit card company or the airline cared about catching the criminal.

“The whole incident emphasized to me why credit card fraud is at epidemic proportions:  the ease by which it is accomplished; the difficulty in catching and prosecuting the perpetrators; and most of all, the apathy of the companies involved.  It made it clear to me a lot of fraud is written off with the final cost being borne by the consumer in terms of tighter credit, higher interest rates and fees,” White said.

It’s as Burbank stated. If no one has died the importance of crimes like this go unnoticed and often unpunished, which is why identity theft and fraud is rapidly rising to become the most committed and expensive crimes.

White reflects that he would have done things differently. He would have checked his accounts more frequently so that the individual could have been caught when he tried to fly. White also suggests to, “Check your credit card accounts, even your inactive ones every week or so.  Try to limit your online purchases using your major cards, use other sources, like Paypal, which offers good fraud protection.  If you have fraudulent charges on one of your cards, report it immediately, first by phone (record the important information about the call), then follow immediately in writing.  As I understand the law, consumers have the right to dispute any charge if they report it in writing within 30 days of the charge.”

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