CEI Stories

Serving & supporting small business owners just like you.


June 21, 2022

Carolina’s Specialty Shop

Born and raised in Santiago, Chile, Carolina Tanquay spent her early adult years in Europe including Austria and Switzerland. But it was in Las Palmas Gran Canarias, Spain where she met George, a Merchant Marine Engineering Officer from South Portland, Maine. Carolina left her life and family behind and came to Maine for a new beginning with George, whom she has been married to for 30 years. 

Carolina’s interest in and connection to local culture helped her find community in Maine, a path that ultimately led her to open Carolina’s Specialty Shop in South Portland. The shop features gourmet chocolates and goods handcrafted by Carolina and other local artisans.

What inspired you to start your Specialty Goods store?

As I built my new life here in Maine, I fell in love with the New England culture. I began to take many classes to learn painting, quilting and embroidery. I started to attend craft fairs to showcase my final products. As years went by, I was immersed in the making and designing of handmade products, and I loved sharing my time with other women in business. I often come up with new product ideas, and I keep my focus on “The Maine Concept” and New England culture. I have a strong belief in preserving the local culture, while we adapt to new technology and changes.

Being a businesswoman is not always easy because of family demands, but I knew I could do it. Businesswomen have become an ever-increasing force in our community in the last few years.

In those early days, I participated in craft fairs as much as possible to learn the language, the business and to integrate in the community. Later, I saw the opportunity to help other small businesses, and I began to organize large events for local small businesses which gave them the opportunity to sell their products while they expand their network and learn from each other.

I never thought I would be building a retail shop.  But as I continued to cope with the pain of losing one of my sons eight years ago, there was a strong desire for me to give back through my business. My shop features not only my own products but also products from local artisans, which is one way for me to spread kindness and help other small local businesses.  

I always felt encouraged to learn, to grow, to adapt but also to share my experiences –good and bad.  Giving back has always been my mission.

What were the biggest challenges when you started your business?

As an immigrant the major barriers are language, financial and cultural. Community integration requires a lot of time and work. I decided to go back to school to learn the business. It wasn’t easy, but I had determination and goals. I always have been grateful for the love of my family and support from them, as well as my friends who encourage me to never give up.

What do you regard as most rewarding in your entrepreneurial journey?

The most rewarding things throughout my journey have been how much I have learned and the support and love I have received through all these years. My business brought me closer to my community, and I met a lot of wonderful people along the way.  I consider them my family and support system.

CEI Women’s Business Center understands and is ready to help us to learn what is needed to grow our business, technical skills, provide us resources and integrate us in the community.

What would you say to other immigrants who also want to start their own business?

The immigrant community has amazing people, hardworking intelligent individuals with great work ethics.

I believe that everyone deserves a chance, but it’s also true that we need to work hard to prove ourselves.

Work hard, learn, follow the rules and advocate for yourself. Sometimes the community is hard on immigrants because of prejudice and misperception.  I believe it is important to give them the opportunity to get to know you, and we need to get to know them.

Set realistic goals, be informed, and work hard.  Don’t expect to be easy.  Don’t get hung up on negativity.  Surround yourself with positive people.  Try to understand the culture of the country you are living in without losing your own.  It is very important to keep being yourself.

It’s very hard to be away from everything we knew and grew up with. Feeling alone and isolated is hard, feeling unwanted is a very horrible feeling. We all have experienced these feelings at some point.  It is important we find support and ask for help. WE ARE NOT ALONE!

Remember that we are living in a wonderful community; we are here to help, to grow, to be a part of, and to contribute to it.


Looking to Start or Grow Your Business?

You have big ideas. Our business experts are here to help you succeed. Through workshops, peer groups and one-on-one advising, we help people across the state get the information and support they need to start or grow their Maine business. In addition to providing general assistance to businesses at any stage, CEI has experts in child care and both marine and land-based food harvesting, growing and value-added production businesses, as well as tailored programs for women and immigrants and refugees.

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