A walk down to the Santiago market area yesterday reminded me how different shopping can be in Mexico. It's something you get accustomed to and don't notice once you've lived here awhile.
I try to patronize the small, locally-owned businesses. Shopping at big malls and large chain stores is just about the same anywhere in the world these days, but the mom-and-pop stores in Mexico offer things not available any longer elsewhere.
First stop, the auto parts store for new limpiaparabrisas, windshield wiper blades.
I took in one of the worn-out blades from my car so I would have an example. These small stores don't always carry name brands or have a huge book listing the exact part necessary for an individual make and model year of car, so it's a good idea to have an example for comparison to be sure what you're buying will fit. The guy measured the blade, and then asked me, "Do you want just one?" In the States, folks generally replace wiper blades in pairs, under the assumption that when one starts streaking, the other is soon to follow. Not so here, where people often try to eek out the last bit of use from an item before buying a replacement.
When I told the salesman I needed two, the next question was, "Do you want two the same size?" Now I guess it might seem a little odd that someone would buy two blades of different sizes, but actually the rear window wiper on my car is smaller, and I guess someone might come in and buy two replacements of different sizes. The counter guy was being thorough.
So I bought my replacement wiper blades, each complete with metal armature and adapters to make sure it fits on the wiper arm of any car. I got exactly what I needed, no more, no less. I paid seventy-six pesos, or about $5.55 in the United States. Not a bad deal, and quite a bit less than I would have paid in a larger, fancier store, or anywhere north of the border.
The smaller stores mostly cater to neighborhood residents who need to make their pesos go as far as possible. These kinds of no-frills places are exactly the opposite of the Costco and box store model, where shoppers buy items pre-packaged and often in quantity. Need one picture hanger? Well, in the big store, the smallest quantity available in blister-packs is probably a dozen, so you might end up paying for eleven more than you need. But in the small neighborhood stores you can save money by buying only the quantity you can use.
If you need one nail, one screw, or just a couple ounces of plaster or paint thinner, the neighborhood Mexican store is the kind of place for you.
So next I headed to the tlapalería, or hardware store. I had a couple of faucets that were dripping, something common around here with our hard, mineralized water.
The tlapalería is the kind of place with a long counter separating the customers from the merchandise, which is contained in bins and boxes on high shelves along the walls and "out back." You tell the man what you need, and he brings examples to the counter for inspection. Liquids are measured into small containers, and quantities of other items are counted or weighed. Advice is plentiful and free.
I bought six rubber and leather washers to repair dripping faucets. They came out of huge bins, and look as if they were punched by hand from old tires or other repurposed material. But they work fine, and I would much prefer to buy parts made by small businesses in Mexico, without the wasteful packaging seen in larger stores, and in just the quantity I need. Six washers cost me six pesos, or about forty-five cents.
The tlapalería owner even manufactures his own packaging. When I had paid for my purchases, the guy slipped them into a small paper bag, made from a recycled catalog page which he'd folded in half and glued along two edges, leaving one end open to create an envelope into which he slipped my washers. The handmade bag also has a hand-lettered publicity flyer glued onto the front, listing products available along with the store address, phone number and the fact that the tlapalería is open on Sundays.
My windshield wipers are renewed and my faucets are fixed. All with economy, recycling and the money spent in the local community. I also stopped at the bank along the way. Total distance walked was about six blocks and time spent a little more than half an hour. Neighbors greeted me on the walk home. That's something I can buy into.
Here's another post on Economy.