In just one block of Montes Street in Havana—among the dilapidated sidewalks, cracked windows and rusting window bars—nearly a dozen entrepreneurs are making a go at building their own small businesses.
Nancy Rodriquez and Llaumara Rey, both in their 40s, beamed in front of their offerings—religious statues and amulets that they say are selling like gangbusters. They didn't want to discuss their business's finances, but when asked if they are making more money now than when they worked for the state, they gave very certain, self-assured nods.
Next door, 55-year-old Maria Del Carmen is having a tougher go of it. She just opened shop two months ago, selling plumbing pipes, but she's already thinking of quitting. "It's much harder than I thought it was going to be," she said.
(Read More: Cuban Free Enterprise? Well, Sort of)
Passers-by stopped constantly to inquire about prices for the small pipes and elbows they so desperately need to fix up the millions of run-down homes on the island. Some even bought from Del Carmen's inventory, but apparently not enough of them. After she paid the monthly tax to the state to have the shop, along with her social security taxes, she said it isn't much better than her previous job in a state-run restaurant.
That isn't stopping her neighbor, 26-year-old Luis Enrique, who was setting up shop next door. He feverishly painted a new shop where he plans to sell pizza. Enrique said he is certain he is going to make a lot more money than working for the state, because he's seen his friends do it. Right now, he makes $15 a month working in a state-run warehouse, but he's seen his friends make double that. "I can't wait to open," he said.