Watch CBS News

After fleeing Venezuela, Chicago entrepreneur helping women around the world

Venezuelan migrant in Chicago helping women worldwide
Venezuelan migrant in Chicago helping women worldwide 03:00

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Threats to her life, client betrayal, and a volatile political climate forced one woman out of her country and into the United States. Irene Montiel landed in Chicago after fleeing her native Venezuela, and in just a short time found the courage to reinvent herself.

If someone told Montiel two years ago she'd co-own and manage a pet supply store in Logan Square, she wouldn't have believed it; or maybe she would have.

"I believe in magic. I think that magic is not what people think it is," she said.

It wasn't magic, but fear that led her to flee Venezuela and head to the U.S. two years ago. Montiel, 51, gave up a successful 20-year law practice, where she helped miners fight for their rights and their homes. Then the political climate – and a client – turned on her, and she said she found herself behind bars, falsely accused of stealing. 

"I saw horrible things in prison. It wasn't even a prison, it was a detention center," she said.

When she got out, with help from people inside, she knew her life would never be the same.

"If something like that can happen to me, there was no law. Like, everything changes, your whole life changes, the perspective," she said.

Montiel first landed on the West Coast and ended up in Chicago, where she met Saul Osacky, the owner of the Logan Square Auditorium. Their meeting would be life-changing.

"I gave him a call and said, 'Hey, I need help.' Long story short, I started managing the building," she said.

Osacky had an empty storefront and told Montiel he'd give it to her in exchange for a good business idea.  During work breaks outside, she saw people with their dogs outside, and pitched the idea of a pet supply store to Osacky.

"I thought he was gonna say it was stupid, and he loved it," Montiel said.

Less than a year later, her idea is now a reality. Osacky is a silent partner, and Montiel is using her new business to help women worldwide by selling their wares.

"I found things from Africa. I have baskets that are made by African women, and I think from abused women of Pakistan," she said. "I think, like, everybody wants to change the world.  Right?  And we think we have to do extraordinary things, and we need a lot of resources, and I realized at my age that anybody can change the world and their space."

She's far from finished. Montiel, who also works alongside her grown daughter, said she's also focused on building her online business to further help women sell the goods they make.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.