Dear friends of Loom Tree, greetings once again from Antigua Guatemala. The summer rains are expected soon, and the city is entering its annual low season. However, this year feels a little different. While we recognize that many in Guatemala have not yet recovered from the difficult years of the pandemic, we here in Antigua are experiencing what we may tentatively call a mini-renaissance. All over the city new small businesses are emerging, and we here at Loom Tree are still reeling from a very busy high season. In fact for the first time we are actually looking forward to the low season so we can catch up on our production backlog! I must admit it is quite a different feeling than what we have become accustomed to. In the past the low seasons could “make or break” a small business, and Loom Tree faced its own critical seasons when we were first starting out.
Antigua Guatemala was a very different place when I first moved here in the late 1980s. At the time Guatemala was in the final years of a horrible civil war, and while Antigua was generally spared from this conflict, Guatemala and its treasures were far from being popular destinations. By the time I began my business here in 1996 the war was over, but to many people around the world Guatemala was still an obscure, far away, and dangerous place. However, Antigua’s enchanting beauty was already beginning to attract visitors, and businesses like mine, who depended on these visitors, began to sprout up. Nevertheless, the dreaded low seasons were a clear and present danger to all of us. We either had to do very well in the high season, and thus could "ride the low season out" as it were, or we had to develop recognition within the small local pool of consumers to keep us afloat. Back when Loom Tree first started we depended almost entirely on tourism, and I remember dreading the moment the tourists would leave for the year.
That's me at a local artisan market when I was pregnant with my son in 1990.
By the early 2000s I was lucky to be discovered by one of the most impressive women I ever had the pleasure of knowing, the late Lilia de Carrera. In many ways she discovered me and introduced me into Guatemalan society at large. I was no longer the quirky foreigner from Antigua, but rather I was now being recognized as an emerging local talent. After all, my family and I belonged to the dynamic community of expats who, along with the greater community of Antigua, helped elevate the city into the treasure we know and love today. Currently Antigua is being celebrated for its unique array of small businesses which in turn contribute to a healthy local economy that in many ways functions as a model for the nation. While some may see Antigua’s relative wealth as indications that it has become “commercial” or has “sold itself out,” the truth is that Antigua’s economy was built from the ground up by small businesses who together defied the odds of being in the "global south."
So my dear friends, I hope my recollections of starting out in Antigua help inform your opinion of the city. Perhaps next time you visit you’ll notice the many unique small businesses that make up so much of Antigua’s social fabric. Especially now that Antigua is on a lucrative streak, and corporations and chains are eyeing the city, we need to support small businesses more than ever.
Until next time!