Costa Rica is a dynamic little country that has every modern convenience and luxury items that one could want. In San Jose you will find the typical American mega malls that rival any you will find in the United States. Most feature an array of high end boutiques, designer and luxury goods shops and many of the America fast food chains. And the newest addition? Starbucks.
However, one of things that I love most about living in Costa Rica is the abundance of small, family owned businesses. In the United States, the small mom and pop’s businesses that once were the backbone of our society and created a thriving country, have been forced to close up shop, unable to compete with the buying power of large corporations. Even though these large corporations have made their presence known in Costa Rica, small businesses still dominate the market.
In Atenas you will not find any of the big international corporate chain’s that you find in San Jose. However, what you will encounter are an abundance of locally owned and operated businesses such as “tiendas” (shops), “soda’s” (small restaurants), “farmacias” (pharmacies), and “ferriterias” (hardware stores). These local shops will not be as fancy as those in the mall with shinning new displays, but offer many quality products and still value great service. It gives me great pleasure knowing that every time I patronize these local businesses, I am supporting my community, keeping the money in my adopted town of Atenas.
Recently I spoke with a young entrepreneur and business woman in Atenas, Victoria Urena-Porras. Victoria is a Optometrist and owns her own practice and optical shop, La Optica in downtown Atenas. I asked Victoria to bring things into “focus”, telling us where she is from, what is her educational background and what are the services she offers at La Optica. I also wanted to know what she thinks as a local business owner about the expat community and if she feels the locals see a benefit from the expat community in Atenas.
We started our conversation by me asking Victoria where she is from. Victoria responds “I was born and raised in Atenas like all my family before me. Atenas is a great place to be from, a small, peaceful place with people who have great values, work hard and strive to excel in life.”
How has it been starting your own business, La Optica, in Atenas? Victoria says “As with opening any business it has had it’s challenges and has required a lot of hard work, but it has been worth it! Today in Atenas we have more opportunities than years ago because we have seen a great deal of development in our little town due to the influx of tourists and foreigners who have made Atenas home. This in turn has benefited not only business but the community as a whole. There is goodwill between people and an amazing cultural exchange between the locals and foreigners.”
Do you have a lot of expat business? Victoria replies “ Oh yes! My clients know that I am bilingual and this has helped me to create a great deal of business with the foreign community as well as the local Tico community. I have patience who are from as far away as the United States, Canada, Germany, Switzerland and France, among other countries.”
I wanted to know more about Victoria’s educational background and experience so I asked if Victoria studied Optometry in Costa Rica? Victoria says “Yes, my studies took me to San Jose where I studied Optometry at the Universidad Latina de Costa Rica, the only University in Costa Rica that offers a career in Optometry.” Victoria continues “ When I finished my studies, I began practicing optometry with a local chain of optical shops. In 2011 I made the decision to utilize my 8 years of experience and become independent, launching my own company, La Optica.”
Victoria, tell me about your practice and business. Victoria states “ As Optometrists’, we are professionals involved in the primary health care of the eye and we determine the value of vision. My job is to correct the visual system using glasses, contact lenses or vision therapy. Also, as an Optometrist I am able to detect pathological and systematic conditions in the eyes and refer my patience to specialists as needed. At La Optica we have the latest technology to test your vision and a wide variety of frames that are sure to please anyone’s personal taste and budget. We provide products and services to children, adolescents and adults alike. If you need an eye exam, new frames, lenses, repairs for your current frames, or contact lenses we are here to serve you. We happily accept walk-ins or you can call and set up an appointment. For those who need further examinations and specialized care for their eyes, we have a great referral service of trusted Ophthalmologists. It is important that my clients know I have the backing of the Colegio de Optometristas, assuring that they are in the hands of a qualified professional.” As a client myself it is important to point out that La Optica offers FREE eye exams with the purchase of your frames and lenses. Who could ask for more?
As Atenas continues to grow, Victoria is optimistic about her future and sees her business expanding at a rapid pace. She will soon be opening another location in a near by village to better serve her clients. On a personal note, I know that Victoria has what it takes to be successful in life as well as in business. She has an incredible work ethic, great personality, and is extremely professional. Victoria is surrounded by the love and support of her family, with frequent visits from her daughter, sisters, parents and vibrant “abuela”. More importantly, as a strong, independent woman, Victoria is setting a great example for the love of her life, Emma, her beautiful 2 year old daughter.
As a foreigner living in Atenas, I take great pride in my new home and being able to support the local community. By doing something as simple as buying local, we can each make a difference, keeping the money we spend within our own community. The next time you think you need something from one of the mega malls, first see if you can find it in your local community. This is the best way we can give back to our beautiful community that has given us so much, welcoming each one of us with open arms.
English and Spanish spoken.
Costa Rica Realtors Chamber
Tours in Costa Rica
Pure Life Development of Atenas is a full service tour company. We feature full vacation packages and day trips for the family. Our tour director Nelson Conejo is very experienced and provides a personal service and attention to detail second to none in Costa Rica. Please write Nelson or give him a call to arrange your next Costa Rican vacation at (506)2446-0447 or
Retirement Living in Atenas
Interview with Pure Life Development co-founder and certified realtor Dennis Easters, about Costa Rica ranked by AARP as "one of the best places to retire abroad".