Stories From Walla Walla – Antonio Garcia of Abzuya Woodworking
Antonio Garcia now lives in Walla Walla, Washington but was born in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. When he first moved from Mexico to San Jose, California in 1989 he worked at Wayne Dalton – a company that specializes in making garage doors. Antonio, who has worked with wood all of his life, felt the job natural until one day when the work went away.
Antonio grew up on the east coast of Mexico in a small city outside of Guadalajara where all of his brothers work as carpenters. Thirty years ago Antonio took part in a program created by city officials to bring in trade workers from larger towns to skillshare with locals from smaller cities. The program incentivized him to learn woodworking by offering a weekly check in exchange for learning the skill. Once the skills was learned, his brothers and father helped him in perfecting his art by sharing their trade secrets to perfect his skill.
When he landed in California, his skillset was seasoned enough to work in the wood industry.
Antonio recalls that living in Oakland was difficult for him, and things took a turn for the worse during the 2008 recession when the woodworking jobs at his employer, Wayne Dalton, were eliminated. His sister who was living in Walla Walla at the time encouraged him to move there for a new opportunity. Knowing the cost of living would be lower, he took the risk and moved his family from the bustling streets of Oakland to the smaller and quieter Walla Walla valley.
When Antonio moved to Walla Walla he immediately loved it. The quieter town was more familiar to him – feeling immediately like a more suitable location to grow his family. At the same time, moving without a job led him down a path that allowed him to explore new ventures for supporting himself and his family.
In early 2019, Antionio learned about a Mercy Corps Northwest program in Walla Walla that would offer him education from a Business Foundations course and $4,000 in a matched-savings IDA grant to start his own business. He had always had a vision of starting his own woodworking shop but was better skilled in the trade than in the art of owning a business.
“Mercy Corps helped me to finish with my licenses, they helped me to get everything,” shares Antonio
In Walla Walla, Washington Mercy Corps Northwest hosts the local Micro-Business Assistance (MBA) Program that offers business education in English and Spanish to a cohort of 20 or more business owners who are looking to grow a business each year. In the local area, there are limited services for Spanish speakers – particularly for entrepreneurial support – despite the skill and creativity thriving within the community. During a six-month program, participants learn the basics of starting a business including key competencies in accounting, financing and more. While classes are in session, enrollees are also tasked with saving $84 a month for 6 months to be matched with $4,000 to start or grow their enterprise. For skilled workers like Antonio, the program creates an achievable pathway to business ownership.
“From the program, I learned how I can run my business,” shares Antonio. “Before the classes, I was just working with wood – and that’s it. Now I learned how I can save money, the business how-to, and things like that.”
With support from his education and grant from Mercy Corps Northwest Antonio’s business “Abzuya” formed in late 2019.
As a woodworking shop, Abzuya offers custom-made cabinets, closets, or bathroom cabinets, and more. Antonio, however, is skilled enough to complete any wood project as long as it doesn’t require graphic design – a skill he hopes to grow in the future.
In early 2020 Abzuya suffered unexpected shocks as COVID brought business to a halt. Beginning in February of 2020, he lost work from local contractors but was fortunate enough to make it up with smaller gigs on the side. Throughout the remainder of the year, his woodworking slowed but never fully stopped. Antonio’s focus shifted to completing projects when they came his way. Some months he would work on kitchens, while others his business would see no clients.
His outlook never budged, “I’m happy because I have something to do all year,” he shares.
Despite the ups and downs, the future of Antonio’s business remains hopeful. He’s recently found work with a local contractor who can support enough work for half of the year. If business remains steady, Antonio dreams of one day opening a shop with metal walls in a building that he owns himself.
“I have to try, I have to do my best,” he shares.
Antonio lights up when he thinks about his work. “I love everything about wood. I love the wood itself, how the wood smells and thinking about what’s next on my project… I can work 10 hours and I don’t feel it,” he shares.
The name of his business, Abzuya, was created in homage of Antonio’s three children. The name is a combination of his three son’s names Abil, Zuzim, and Yayel.
“Zuzim, so that’s the “zu,” and my older one Abil, “Ab,” and my younger one Yayel, so that’s “ya.” So Abzuya is all three,” he shares.
The shop is a road by which Antonio hopes to support his kids to take on their own dreams. He teaches them bits of the woodworking art but is careful not to lead his children to the assumption that they need to follow in his footsteps. Zuzim, his 14-year-old son is a straight-A student; Antonio encourages him to become a doctor, or surgeon – to follow his own paths and dreams.
“I don’t want [my kids] to stay like me just cutting. But if they love this, they can make their own shop. Or – if this company is still around when they grow up – they can run the company. They don’t have to cut the wood like me,” shares Antonio.
“I love this job, I love the company,” he says. With the growth of his woodworking business, Antonio hopes that his future and reach of his children will expand. “I feel happy, and I think my future and my children’s future will hopefully be good. I think in the future it will be a beautiful and big company, hopefully.”
Mercy Corps Northwest’s Micro-Business Assistance (MBA) Program is in its third year of operation in Walla Walla. Since the program’s inception in 2018, over 50 business owners have completed the MBA receiving a combined total of more than $200,000 to start or grow a small business.
To support Antonio Garcia and learn more about Abzuya, email [email protected] or call 509.301.2638. Antonio speaks English and Spanish.