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Owner of Just Opened Italy Nails & Spa Fled Vietnam in 1990

The entrepreneur spent three days aboard a small boat as he made his exodus to the United States.

There's a new small business entrepreneur in town, and it took him 20 years to get here from Asia.

The soft-spoken Tony Bill is the proprietor of at 14034 Poway Rd., which opened in October, and does he have an interesting story to tell about his life's journey.

Bill was born in Vietnam but left  in 1990 stowed abroad a small boat on the open seas.

He was among thousands of refugees who were pushed out of the country by the communist government that didn't like Vietnamese who had worked with the Americans during the Vietnam conflict, ethnic Chinese and other nationalities who were expelled because they weren't Vietnamese, or many citizens who weren't "politically correct."

Bill spent three days at sea before landing safety in Malaysia.

"It was scary," he recalled. "I didn't see much because I was hidden at the bottom of the boat."

Once in Malaysia, he received approval to immigrate to the U.S., and soon left for the Philippines as a transition stop before emigrating to America.

He anglicized his first and last name because it was easier for Americans to pronounce. He changed his last name to Bill to honor the American who helped him while he spent six months in the Philippines learning the rudiments of English.

Bill first arrived in Chicago after his ordeal in Asia, but was soon lured to San Diego, where a friend said he would find greater opportunity.

Nevertheless, he couldn't find work after months of job hunting, so he trained to be a manicurist (he discovered the skill was in great demand in the "Help Wanted" newspaper classifieds), and soon found work, and a path to entrepreneurship.

He became a skilled manicurist and learned the business from the ground floor up.

Five years later, Bill opened a store in National City and then proceeded to open four more in South County as he grew more successful.

Bill sold his shops seven years ago and then worked as the manager in an El Cajon store before opening a business this summer.

When he decided to return at the urging of friends, he chose Poway because the market here has greater potential than South County.

"I like it here," he said. "It's a good place to be."

Bill's 900-square-foot store offers pedicures and manicures, plus related services such as eyebrow waxing.

He employs two, and hopes to expand as he brings in more customers.

He's offering a number of specials, such a free manicure with the purchase of a European spa pedicure, to build his customer list.

His experience sets him apart from competitors in a competitive industry, he said.

Bill said he believed that his experience will offset the possible impact of a slower economy. He expects to add other stores, but doesn't know when that might be, given business conditions.

Finally, how did he come to put Italy in his business name?

"I didn't want to use California in the name, because it's overused by other spas," Bill said. "I had been to Italy, and liked it there, so decided to use the name for my business.

"It's a very nice place, just I want my place to be."

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