SAN DIEGO — Ana Villalobos believes the only thing more beautiful than her dresses is the moment someone finds their perfect match.

“It all comes down to the feeling,” she said. “There’s a dress for every girl.”

Villalobos has owned Lili’s Creations in Chula Vista for 20 years, helping girls pick out their quinceañera dresses. She survived the COVID-19 pandemic and is now bracing for another potential recession, something she hoped she would never have to face again after surviving the Great Recession in 2008.

“It was pretty scary,” she said. “It was very busy at first, but then business like died completely.”

Villalobos took out a loan from Accessity, a nonprofit small business lender, to help her stay open in 2008. Unlike a traditional bank, she said Accessity helped her every step of the way.

“Not only do they help you with the loan, but they offer resources to improve your business,” she said.

Elizabeth Schott, CEO of Accessity, recently helped Chula Vista Brewing get a loan to expand. It’s the only San Diego County Black-owned brewery. Founder Timothy Parker now has tasting rooms in the neighborhood of Eastlake and along 3rd Avenue in Downtown Chula Vista.

Schott said their mission is to open doors of financial opportunity to entrepreneurs of color, women and immigrants — people who historically have faced barriers to traditional capital. Accessity not only gives out money, but it also connects small business owners with financial coaches, entrepreneur communities and business training.

“Access to capital is a large piece of success, but if you’re not surrounded by education and people that you can go to when you have questions, that’s another really piece of being successful long-term,” Schott said.  

As recession fears and inflation pains grow, Schott hopes more small business owners turn to nonprofits like Accessity so they can stay in their communities.

“The amount of passion, grit, determination, inspiration that they provide, not only to their customers that they’re serving, but also to the larger community, there’s such a ripple effect,” Schott said.

Villalobos said many brides also come to her shop looking for a colorful dress instead of the traditional white wedding dress. She knows she will be around to serve her community no matter what the future holds, and she hopes others can look at her example to find hope.

“It’s just, don’t give up,” she said. “Be persistent. Take the help that people are offering.”