Merchants like Isaac Burak know the power of good old word of mouth to attract customers.
But he always wished he could afford the thousand dollar fees advertising salespeople wanted to charge to promote his shops.
So when Jose Ruiz, a former Hispanic liaison for the mayor's office offered to feature Burak's small businesses - for free - in a new bilingual guide to the city's Latino-owned shops and services, Burak jumped at the opportunity.
The new 57-page miniguide called M-?Hola Baltimore! - Hello Baltimore - functions as much as a promoting tool for mom-and-pop shops as it is a welcome booklet for new Latino immigrants.
Ruiz, who retired from the mayor's office this year, enlisted the support of Latino resource organizations Educational-Based Latino Outreach and Assisi House of St. Patrick Roman Church to launch the Spanish-English glossy.
"We want to promote these businesses and keep them alive," said Ruiz, who now works as EBLO's director of cultural and economic development. "A lot of these people, they are very busy. They're there 24 hours a day, seven days a week and they don't have time to promote themselves."
Burak, a native of Argentina, moved to Baltimore from New York seven years ago and opened his first shop. Called Sin Fronteras, or "without borders," it offers a hodgepodge of services, including money wiring, phone booths for placing international calls and a juice bar.
Located in the heart of the city's Latino business district on South Broadway in Fells Point, Sin Fronteras has done so well that eight months ago Burak opened another shop, Sin Fronteras II in Highlandtown. The new shop offers the same services as the original, only instead of guava smoothies, it houses a full-service hair salon.
"When I first came here, I could see the community growing so much," he said. "Now I have customers that come here from all over. They have moved here from Connecticut, from Texas, from North Carolina. The community is growing."
The Latino community, although still so small it makes up about 2 percent of the city's population, has swelled during the past five years, even as the city's overall population has declined slightly.
U.S. Census Bureau estimates recorded more than 13,500 Hispanics in 2004, up from about 11,000 in 2000.
And the community is growing outside Southeast Baltimore, said Ruiz, who includes in the guide Latino-owned businesses from throughout the city.
In addition to listing such businesses as restaurants and construction firms, the handbook includes the names of churches and community groups.
The guide, which has an accompanying Web site, www.holabaltimorecity.org, costs $5. It's available at EBLO's office on South Ann Street.