When we first landed in San Miguel de Allende some five years ago, we had to adapt to a world without shopping malls and big box stores. Food shopping involved going to the polloria (chicken store), the carniceria (butcher), the panaderia (baker), and other small tiendas. We did have one supermarket on the edge of town, but the smell of old, tired fish and liquifying vegetables deterred us from visiting there often.
When we needed a Home Depot or Wal-Mart fix, we made the 45-minute drive to Querétaro. There, the shopping experience was much the way it is in the States, except the prices were in pesos and Costco's wine aisle was stocked with tequila.
In the past year or so, to the joy of some and the dismay of others, our town has seen the arrival of First-World shopping. The initial arrival was the Comercial Mexicana Mega store, a unit of a chain owned by Wal-Mart.
There's no denying that shopping is easier and often cheaper at Mega. Hundreds of campesinos (peasants) can't be wrong. They arrive in droves in their smoking, beat-up cars to stock up on Coca-Cola and white bread, at half the prices they pay at their local tienditas.
Coming in second in the supermarket race was the new Gigante Supermercado, the anchor store at San Miguel's first true shopping mall, La Luciernaga. It was built to replace the old, smelly Gigante referred to above. Consistent with Gigante's management practices, on opening day, they moved the whole reeking pile of composting fish over from the old store to the new one. Waste not, want not. The new store is remarkable for its lack of customers, all of whom are down at the Mega, buying fresh fish.
The Gigante chain has performed poorly financially, apparently due to their insistence on cleaving to the old Mexico business model where customers come last. They're getting whipped by Wal-Mart. But over the long run, the Gigante Supermercado may win the competitive race in San Miguel, located as it is in a mall where there are a number of small specialty stores, cafes, a multiplex theater, and a second anchor tenant, Liverpool, a high-end department store, here shown under construction.
(Unlike the painters in yesterday's post, these workers are applying paint with rollers, not brushes. The rollers have handles long enough so the scary 30' extension ladders are unnecessary. Painters still haven't graduated to scaffolds and sprayers, but at Liverpool, they're using latex, not cal. We won't have the wonderful streaky look of the old limestone paint, but latex will have a chance of lasting more than a couple of years.)
The Office Depot chain is operated by Gigante in Mexico, so it's a natural for them to include one in La Luciernaga complex. They don't have many customers, but it's early days yet.
Here, Paul (El Guapo) emerges from Office Depot, having entered just to use the bathroom. He approached me, sputtering about seeing the store's eight employees gathered in a knot, chatting, while three customers wanting help stood there fuming. Fortunately, Paul didn't need any assistance.
The concept of customer service is just beginning to arrive in this country.
Business is slow in this new center. Here, four sales clerks, each from a different specialty shop, relax in the sun while waiting for some customers to appear.
Paul is standing in front of a no-name shop. The sign in the window is advertising 50% off on everything, so I guess they're going out of business. Probably a good thing too, because I don't think the owner really had any idea of what his business was. The offerings in the store were unclassifiable.
At this shop, Paul did buy some dangly strings of plastic disk thingies. I don't know what for. Paul sees possibilities not apparent to the rest of us.
(Incidentally, Paul appears more often than usual in this post. This is because a security guard told me I couldn't photograph the mall, although it would be OK if I was just photographing my friend. All right then.)
The restaurants and cafés seem to be doing reasonably well. This woman is eating a carrot dipped in chile sauce. It's from a franchise outlet called Pica Limón. El sano antojo (The healthy snack). Think this would catch on in Cleveland?
Note that she is not your typical campesino. A vigorous middle class is emerging in Mexico, of which she, with her stylish clothes and sunglasses, is a member.
Traffic is not being helped by thoughtless practices. The man in the baseball hat is brushing something containing harsh solvents onto a post right where people are eating. Check out the expression on the customer's face.
This shot was taken with a telephoto lens. Even 100' away, the paint was making my eyes water.
Then there's what seem to me to be missteps in advertising. Look closely at this image from the Holandia ice cream place.
The model has a tongue stud.
Is it just me? Have I become an old fuddy-duddy? One thing for sure: This image isn't reaching me.
We have our first-ever McDonald's. A nice place. Same crappy food, but you can take it to an airy upstairs terrace and sit under canvas umbrellas.
But what are all the green stickers?
They are announcing a closure. What? They're closing McDonald's?
But it's not closed. An employee is schlepping the usual stale hamburgers. Typical law enforcement: You're closed... but you're not. It reminds me of how we handle building permits.
Here is where Paul earns his keep. I'm reluctant to ask the clerk what the story is, not wanting to put her in an awkward position. Not Paul. Mr. "No boundaries." He marches right up to her and asks her what's with the stickers.
Well, it seems that McDonald's signs are illuminated. A no-no. The law in San Miguel says that, being as we are trying to retain the city's colonial look, illuminated signs are illegal.
Please! Even in a modern shopping mall on the outskirts of town, well away from any colonial structures, they're illegal? People complain about corruption in Mexican government. Mindless bureaucratic rule enforcement is almost as bad.
Tonight Jean and I drove up to the La Luciernaga mall to see a movie. First we stopped in at California Sushi for some truly wretched California rolls. We sat outside and listened to Kenny G playing over the mall sound system. The music didn't improve the food. Then we bought tickets for the movie we wanted to see, only to discover that it would be screened two hours later than advertised. So we got our money back (unusual for Mexico) and went home.
We just love the convenience of having our own shopping center at last.