Pilsen Cellular, Aldo Rodriguez

By Salvador Cerna

Ask Aldo Rodriguez, co-owner with his wife Rosa Rodriguez Rocobo of Pilsen Cellular, 1657 W. Cermak Rd., what the secret of their success is, and he will tell you unapologetically,

“Treat people like family. Treat every customer as your tía (aunt), or prima, (cousin).” He established his business in 1993 as Pilsen Beepers, because this was the technology at the time.

Aldo’s family immigrated from Mexico City in the early 1970s. Originally from Tepito, a community in Mexico known for its shops, small businesses, and entrepreneurship spirit, it was only natural that entrepreneurialism would run through his veins. At a young age, he started his business with the help of his brother. “My brother had a video store, and I asked him if he could rent me a vitrina, a showcase. So he rented me a four-feet vitrina for 100 bucks a month. I also had to pay the phone bill.” He continues, “At the time I was only 15 years of age, still in high school, and had a part-time job at a grocery store. Once the business picked up, I had no choice but to leave my job at the store and tended my four-feet showcase full time.”

“The video store was the perfect place to start my business. The traffic of people coming to rent movies was the opportunity I needed to push my product.”

However, Aldo soon realized that his business was growing, and he would need to move out of his brother’s video store, “I knew that if I wanted to grow and expand I would need to get my place. But my problem once again was my age, I wondered who would want to rent to a 15-year-old. So I asked my brother for help once again.” When Aldo found the place where he is currently located, it was his brother who brokered the deal with the property owner. “As my brother was speaking to the owner, I signaled to him with a blink of an eye to take the place.” Aldo recounts that a couple of years later the owner approached him and asked, “It was always you right, it was never your brother.” To which he responded, “If you had known it was me, would you have rented me the space?” The owner stated, “No!” Eventually, Aldo ended up purchasing the building and the lot next door.

Old and new customers come from all over the city and its surrounding suburbs to Pilsen Cellular for services. He attributes this to a natural charisma that he and his wife have to make people feel comfortable, and for providing good and honest service. “People like the way I talk. If someone joven, a young person, comes in I right away greet them with, ‘Hey brother, how you doing?’. If a Spanish-speaking customer comes in I say, ‘Hola primo, cómo estás?’ or ‘¿Cómo te puedo ayudar?’.

He adds, “Of course I am a businessman, but I am not here to rip people off. If I know that there is a cheaper or better alternative to the service you are requesting, I am going to let you know. Your business is more important than me making a few more dollars.”

Aldo prides himself on being a proud Pilsen resident, property, and business owner and cannot see himself working or living anywhere else. “I have always been Pilsen-minded. I live, play, and work in Pilsen.”

Although the store has changed its name, the original Pilsen Beepers sign still hangs in the storefront. “When I was ready to open the store I asked my mom what I should call it, and she said, ‘Aldo’s Beepers’ but I was not sold on the name. I noticed that many stores were named Pilsen Laundry and Pilsen Auto Glass, so I said to myself, ‘It’s going to be Pilsen Beepers’.

He describes what a beeper was back then. “A beeper was a device used before the age of cellulars. If you wanted someone to get a hold of you, you would beep them with a phone number where they could be reached. In most cases, it was a private or home phone, or a public phone. Once beeped, you would need to wait in place until the call was returned. This was the technology of the time from 1993 through 2000. Remember, there were no cell phones.

Aldo strongly believes that organizations like ESDC and SBDC play an important role in supporting local businesses in Black and Brown communities. Especially for new “mom-and-pop shops” that are just starting and need to learn how to navigate the system. Aldo says, “There is so much personal and financial investment that goes on in starting a business, and it is good to know that organizations like ESDC are available to accompany people by tapping into valuable information and resources, and by accompanying people through the process of getting licenses and permits. Especially when language can be a challenge.”

Aldo also adds that ESDC is a great resource if you want to expand or improve your business, “I applied for a grant to make repairs to the building and improve the store. It has been a long and arduous process, to say the least. There are so many requirements and paperwork that at times I have been ready to give up. However, ESDC staff has been there to encourage me to continue, make phone calls when needed, or simply stop by the store to see how I am doing.” He concludes, “Business owners are busy individuals. We just don’t have the time or staff to take time off. It is good to know that ESDC comes to us when we need them.”

Visit Pilsen Cellular at 1657 W. Cermak Rd. in Chicago, or call (773) 972-7575.