Friday, November 20, 2009

Mexican shoppers made for flood of sales receipts last weekend in McAllen

Mexican shoppers made for flood of sales receipts last weekend in McAllen
November 20, 2009 12:05 AM
The Monitor
Sean Gaffney

McALLEN — While city workers hung holiday lights along the streets, downtown McAllen’s retailers wondered if last week’s rush was a prelude to a jolly season.

Mexican shoppers flooded the McAllen area the weekend of Nov. 14 and 15, clogging bridges and thronging shops. Shopkeepers said sales were at Christmastime highs. With a weak peso and economic malaise threatening to hamper holiday spending, they wonder if it was just a tease.

“Right now, it’s still slow,” said Jesus Medelez, an employee at Fashion 25 near the downtown parking garage. “It was very different two years ago.”

When the economy fell apart and the peso lost value, fewer Mexican nationals crossed bridges and those that did spent less. Losing customers who normally spend at least $1.1 billion in Cameron and Hidalgo counties each year crippled sales at area retailers.

Bridge traffic fell and had been on a slow and steady decline since. At the end of September, traffic was down about 10 percent from a year before, said George Ramon, director of the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge.

More than 15,000 vehicles crossed the Hidalgo bridge, up from an average of 11,500 vehicles in recent weeks.

“I was trying to remember the last time I saw that number. It wasn’t at all this year,” Ramon said. “Merchant and hotel owners and operators should be very pleased as well … those are near Christmas rush holiday numbers.”

Two years ago, about 10 Mexican pesos were worth one American dollar. Now, one American dollar costs 13 pesos. It’s a little better than last November, but still means that Mexican nationals have far less buying power.

Last week, sales spiked at Jakybon Accessories, but owner Juany Garza does not think the blues are over. She doesn’t expect the economy to recover for another year so she’s keeping inventory lean at 1424 Beaumont Ave.

She doesn’t want a repeat of last season, when after Christmas her store was crowded with unsold jewelry and beads.

“I have a lot of problems paying employees and paying the bills,” Garza said.

But with the recession well into a second year, Garza and owners like her said they’ve learned to adjust both their expectations and their costs.

Eli Lizka, owner of Colors Name Brand Clothing, saved money switching phone and electric companies. He’s run sales and he’s cut his inventory at 114 S. Main St.

Last weekend his sales were tremendous, but he didn’t know...

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