Irene has had Eli & Eli Carpet in Queens, New York City, for 15 years now, and the store has nearly reached capacity; it’s overflowing with rolls of carpets in various colors, patterns, and fabrics. A member of Grameen America, Irene has been receiving microloans for more than three years and is on her seventh loan. With these funds, she has been able to expand the range of carpets she offers.
In 1994, Irene came to the United States from Ecuador. To make ends meet, she began selling cookware, but she had studied business administration in school and wanted to start her own store. Soon enough she made this dream a reality. She and her husband, who had experience installing carpets, decided to purchase a carpet store. They meant to name the store “Elohim,” which is Hebrew for God. But they accidently registered the name as “Eli” instead. The name stuck, and they didn’t want to pay to change it.
Irene first heard about Grameen America from a friend, who makes and sells tamales and had benefited from the loans. Irene was immediately interested and joined. In the beginning, her loan from Grameen America was modest: $1,500. But with each loan the amount went up incrementally. Now, she’s receiving loans of $7,000. “Now it’s better, because with $7,000, I can buy 4 rolls of carpet. But you have to start somewhere.”
Irene’s business is doing well. She has customers from all five boroughs of New York. She sells both residential and commercial carpet, though commercial is a more popular seller. Her husband does the installation while she handles sales. She currently has two employees who help with installation and stocking. She also has two children, a 23-year-old girl and an 18-year-old boy. Both are students, and Irene hopes they will one day come work in the shop. Her daughter, whose English skills are stronger than Irene’s, helps her write the estimates for customers.
Irene makes her loan repayments at the weekly Grameen America meetings. She likes these meetings because the members in her center encourage each other to be responsible, pay back their loans, and attend the meetings. “I like the center meetings because you get to share a bit with other members, and I like to help people,” she said. “I think that my participation motivates other members, because they can see that although I started with smaller loans, now I’m receiving larger loans. When they see that, they get motivated because they think ‘I can do that too.’”
Irene strongly recommends Grameen to her friends. “Grameen is good because the interest rate is low,” she said. “If you were to go to a bank, they have higher interest rates and they charge you an application fee of $3,000 or $4,000.”
Being a part of the Grameen program has enabled Irene to put more money away as well. She is saving now to buy a house in Queens. “My kids like this country,” she said. “It’s a better option to buy a house here.” She also is hoping to keep growing her business and would eventually like to take a larger loan and move to a bigger storefront. “Grameen has helped me see more results. I’m optimistic for the future.”