Success Story
January 10, 2024

Latina Business Owner Strengthens Roots in Aurora, Illinois, With Help From EDA-Funded Revolving Loan Fund

In downtown Aurora, Illinois, a plant shop brimming with monsteras, ficuses, fiddle leaf figs, and succulents is more than another sign of the historic center’s economic rejuvenation. It’s a dream realized for a first-generation Mexican American woman who wanted to strengthen her roots in the community that raised her.

“I still have to pinch myself,” said Nancy Martinez, 37, owner of Nide Jardin, a 2,400-square-foot plant and home decor store that opened in August 2023 with assistance from a flexible loan from a Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) supported by a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA).

After more than a year of successful pop-ups at farmer’s markets and other events, Martinez has cultivated a welcoming indoor green space in downtown Aurora. Her shop is filled with unique, exotic plants, as well as home decor made by local artisans, including a Latina-owned business that sells items with Spanglish sayings. A local coffee maker has a booth that serves horchata lattes and wild berry lemonade kombucha.

Martinez’s business started during the COVID-19 pandemic as she sought refuge in her houseplants to cope with the stresses of being a new mom during the pandemic. She started selling her propagations and things took off.

“From those roots, my business began,” she said.

The store’s name, Nide Jardin, was derived from the common saying among Mexican Americans, “Ni de aquí, ni de allá,” which is Spanish for “Neither from here, nor there,” and embodies the experience of having shared roots in both the United States and Mexico.

The same could be said of many houseplants, which are generally native to countries outside of the U.S.

“One of the things I tell people about most plants is that this is not their native country or place, but if you give them love and support, they are going to grow and thrive,” said Martinez, whose parents emigrated from Mexico. She grew up in Aurora and still has most of her immediate family living there.

Investing in Aurora

Crowd gathers for the Nide Jardin ribbon cutting.
A ribbon-cutting was held in August 2023 to celebrate the opening of Nide Jardin in Aurora, Illinois. (Photo courtesy of Aurora Regional Chamber of Commerce)

Last year, Martinez received a loan from Invest Aurora, which was awarded a $2 million EDA grant in 2021 to capitalize and administer an RLF that provides local businesses with financial assistance to expand, create jobs, and strengthen regional economies. Invest Aurora, an economic development organization that partners with the city of Aurora, matched the grant with $500,000 in local funds.

The loan helped Martinez acquire a building for her plant shop after traditional banks turned her down. She had money for the build-out, but not for the purchase of the space, which is on the ground level of a mixed-use building. She and her husband, Hector, had good credit and owned other residential rental properties, but the banks were still not interested.

After being turned down, Martinez met Chris Faber, Invest Aurora’s director of business attraction, at a community event. She told Faber that her business plan was dead because they couldn’t get a loan. At the time, Invest Aurora had just received their EDA grant.

“I told her, “We have a new program that can help,” Faber said. “And we started scratching out a plan on the back of a napkin.”

Martinez was the second borrower from the EDA-funded Revolving Loan Fund program operated by Invest Aurora, one of nearly 400 organizations across the country that administer and manage EDA-funded loan funds. Their program aims to support the acquisition and rehabilitation of locally owned and managed enterprises by providing gap loan funding to businesses that find traditional financing difficult to obtain. As of January 2024, Invest Aurora has loaned out all $2 million of its grant – with one borrower that has already paid back the loan in its entirety. As current loans are repaid, RLF funds become available to lend to new borrowers. The roster of Invest Aurora borrowers is as diverse as the city – a plant shop, high-end sneaker store, streetwear fashion clothing retailer, Puerto Rican restaurant, custom t-shirt maker, dance studio, and a coffee roaster that is one of the biggest importers of Ugandan coffee beans.

Faber is proud to note that the gender, racial and ethnic breakdown of business owners who received loans are a diverse mix – eight Latino, six white, four Black, and three Indian/Asian borrowers; and an even split between people who identify as male and female.

Neither From Here, Nor There

Just 40 minutes outside Chicago, the city of Aurora is Illinois’ second most populated city. The beautiful Fox River cuts through a downtown filled with historic buildings. The city has a long history of manufacturing, as well as being a welcoming stop for Hispanic immigrants. Now, Latinos make up more than 40 percent of the city population.

“We are about half Latino and we very much embrace this,” Faber said. “Our downtown businesses mirror our population. It’s a bilingual city.”

Martinez’s parents came to Aurora from Jiquilpan, Michoacán, in Mexico. She has fond memories of her Latino-infused childhood in the Chicago suburb, especially the magic of storytelling in the community and the connection to nature.

She also remembers the “old school” Latino business owners in the city who often are not part of the greater business community. She hopes to help bring them into the fold so they can take advantage of resources, and also has immense appreciation for them.

“It’s because of them. They paved the way for me to say, ‘I can be a Latina business owner.’ I’m so thankful,” Martinez said.

For more information about EDA’s Revolving Loan Fund program and a list of RLF operators across the United States, click here.


  • Small Business Development/RLF