Despite Bad Economy, Long Border, Shoppers Still Come to Yuma Area From Mexico

Shoppers from Mexico aren’t traveling to the Yuma area as much as they did five years ago, but the variety of products available in stores here, competitive prices and customer services will ultimately bring them back in their former numbers – and more.

That’s the hope and expectation of chamber of commerce officials and of retailers who cater to consumers who come from San Luis Rio Colorado, Son., Los Algodones, Baja Calif., and other Mexican cities.

The recession from which the nation is now just emerging hurt the buying powers of consumers on both sides of the border, says Ken Rosevear, executive director of the Yuma County Chamber of Commerce. And it didn’t help that Mexican shoppers were meanwhile waiting in progressively longer car lines to cross the border, he adds.

“You’re not going to want to come here if you have to wait much time in a line,” he said.

According to a study by the University of Arizona, shoppers from Mexico accounted for 6.27 percent of all sales tax receipts in Yuma County from 2007 to 2008. The study also calculated that in that period, they spent a total of $271 million in Yuma businesses and more than $735 million in those in San Luis, Ariz.

Even if stores in the area aren’t recording those kinds of sales figures today, shoppers and retailers alike agree that stores will recoup business from Mexico.

“Right now the economy is difficult in Mexico, but even though the dollar is higher (in relation to the peso) we are going to keep coming,” said Leticia Vega, a resident of San Luis Rio Colorado.

“There are a lot things that are cheaper here,” she said one day recently in San Luis, Ariz., as she pushed a shopping cart full of groceries back toward the border. “I think it’s still convenient to come here. We save 30 percent.”

Apart from the savings, Mexican consumers find two other advantages in patronizing businesses north of the border, said Francisco Jimenez, another shopper who comes to San Luis, Ariz., from Mexico.

“The clothing is lower priced, and so are children’s toys. Apart from that, the service is better – here they treat you well. Unfortunately, over there (in Mexico) some businesses haven’t learned how to treat the customer, and it’s hard to make them live up to guarantees.”

But Jimenez conceded he is sometimes discouraged by wait times at the border, which have lengthened in recent years as a result of growth in traffic between San Luis and San Luis Rio Colorado.

“The only thing that is bothersome are the lines. One does not enter or leave the United States quickly. Before, one could come (to the United States) two or three times a day without having to struggle to cross the border.”

In San Luis, Ariz., sales taxes represent one of the largest sources of revenue for the city coffers, and shoppers from Mexico account for much or most of that money, since they account for most of the sales in many of the city’s stores.

At a time when the area is struggling to recover from the worst recession in memory, the challenge in San Luis, Ariz., is to offer Mexican consumers a wider variety of businesses with a wider range of product offerings, says Judith Hoyos, executive director of the Arizona border city’s chamber of commerce.

“Business has stayed the same here,” she said.”We haven’t seen an increase. The majority of people are focused on staying within the family budget. Perhaps we’ll be able to see a little more traffic (from shoppers) this season, but the problem is that we don’t have the businesses that can offer product variety. The only one is Wal-Mart. Among the clothing stores we have, the majority are for young people.”

But she agrees with Rosevear that the priority for now is to reduce wait times at the border.

“We need to balance (border) security with commerce,” said Rosevear. “We don’t want long wait times that hurt commerce, but we don’t want security to be reduced either. The solution is that improvements and new technology be implemented to expedite traffic at the ports of entry.”

As Congress and U.S. officials continue to debate the topics of border security and immigration, Rosevear added, they need to take into account the need to facilitate the flow of legitimate traffic between two nations.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars in commercial exchange depend on that, and we can’t interrupt it,” he said.

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