Saturday, November 21, 2009

Convenience comes to Loreto Bay

It takes more than homes and people to make a Village. Therefore, for some time now it has been high on the wish list of the Homeowners here in Loreto Bay to have a store in our development to provide some of the basics – a Convenience store – or as they are somewhat confusingly called here in Mexico, a “Mini – Super”.

The original development plan called for a large Market to be set-up in one of the yet unfinished Posada buildings on the Paseo, at the entrance to the parcel of land that was set aside for the Beach Club. With work stalled on these buildings, pending the transfer of the development to a new Developer Owner, this service will be years away, assuming the plans remain unchanged.

But there is no shortage of finished commercial space on the main road that runs through the Founder’s Neighbourhood, although, with the exception of a few administrative offices for Security, the Home Owners Association and some Construction Offices, most of the spaces stand vacant. As well, there are now some commercial enterprises on the Paseo; an Office/Showroom for a furniture supplier, a design office for an Independent Contractor, and, as I mentioned in an earlier posting, Dorado Properties plans to open a permanent office in the near future providing Real Estate and Property Management services.

But, until this week, there was nowhere in our “Village” to buy the basic items that are necessary to make living here more convenient. That has now changed with the opening of Baja on Site – the newest addition to the business of living here in Loreto Bay. This enterprise is the realization of the dreams of Evan and Julie Fager, a young couple who have chosen to make this place their home, where they will earn their living and where they want to raise their family, two young boys; Seth and Bubbies.

I first met Evan just about a year ago, when he was moved here from the Loreto Bay offices in Scottsdale to manage the IT services for the original Developer. At that time, Julie remained in their home in Arizona raising the two boys, and Evan lived for several months at the INN until the business operations of Loreto Bay were shut down. Rather than returning to the States, like most of the ex-pat employees did when their jobs were terminated, Evan chose to stay and moved his family to a rented home here in Loreto Bay.

As the family settled into their new home and culture, Evan began to set up his own independent IT service company, applying his considerable computer skills to the needs of the businesses based here and taking over the Loreto Bay Home Owners website. While these enterprises would be demanding enough for most people, Evan and Julie had an even more ambitious dream. Julie had managed a chain of convenience stores back in the US and she wanted to apply this background to the opportunity that was apparent here in Loreto Bay and open her own store, providing much needed basics for the growing population of residents here.

There was an ideal location available – a couple of years ago one of the storefronts had been set up as a Farmacia, the Mexican name for (your getting ahead of me now) a Pharmacy, to provide over-the-counter medications and personal care products. Unfortunately, the combination of a too limited range of products and a then too small market base to draw on, proved to be unworkable and the store closed after less than a year of operation. However, with a handsome set of built-in display cabinets over plenty of storage in cupboards and drawers, the space was perfectly suited for the purposes of Julie’s new store.

However, this is Mexico, and nothing here is easy or straight forward, and so it took several months of planning and negotiation, starting this past summer, before all the necessary arrangements were in place for the business to begin. But the work did not end there. Now that the location was secured, the even bigger challenge of stocking the shelves with the right inventory began. This was the most critical part of the plan – finding the right balance of convenience and hard to find products that would be necessary for the business to succeed.

I have written before about the complex process of shopping here (see “Hunting and Gathering” and “To Market, To Market” in my archived postings), there is no such thing as “one stop shopping” in the town of Loreto. And while things have improved dramatically over the past several years, it remains a challenge to find the variety of familiar food products that we are all accustomed to where we come from up north. For residents of Loreto Bay, the situation is further complicated by the fact that we are 15 km from town and, with the exception of a small Mexican owned “Mini-Super” near the north entrance to the Nopolo district, which keeps uncertain hours and has a very limited inventory, we had no option but to make the trip into town for even the most basic needs.

Entrepreneurship 101 – find a need, and fill it! But first, they had to fill the shelves, and, different than Julie’s previous retail experience where someone else was paying the bills, this time it was their own money they were investing. And so began the biggest (and scariest!) shopping trip of their lives. Returning to Arizona, they began to buy, in retail quantities, a Santa’s length list of the things they had determined would most appeal to their neighbours and soon to be customers. Stocking their new store with a combination of basics, and impossible to find extras, along with a targeted assortment of hardware and accessories that they chose with the kind of knowledge that can only come from the experience they had gained by living here.

But then it turned out that buying all of this stuff was the EASY part of the job! Properly clearing it all through customs, and paying the substantial duties on imported foodstuffs, took many frustrating weeks and added considerably to the costs of their inventory. And the process still isn’t complete – with a large part of their purchased stocks still in transit, even though the shelves were impressively full when they finally opened this week. Then there was the local component to their selection – dairy products, soft drinks, bottled water - and, for some of us, most importantly, BEER! The labyrinth of the Mexican wholesale system had to be penetrated, Suppliers found, accounts set-up, deliveries made – a learning curve far steeper than the regular day-to-day challenges that all we Homeowners face while just living here.

With determination and perseverance (and the energy and enthusiasm that comes from a measure of youthful ignorance) all of these challenges were met and the results, in the form of a beautiful, well organized little store, opened this week in Loreto Bay. But, like most new enterprises, there is more to come. With new inventory arriving and a growing “wish list” added to daily by their initial customers, Evan and Julie have big plans for the future.

In addition to the basic foods, condiments, toiletries, snacks, candies and drinks, Baja on Site also has a respectable library of used books for exchange, a good selection of US compatible DVDs for rent or swap, even DVD players and basic Notepad computers for rent. They also will be providing sidewalk tables and free wireless internet for visitors who don’t want to bother hooking up their homes for a short stay. In my conversation with Julie, she hinted about even more ambitious plans for the future, but I don’t want to put any more pressure on this ambitious young couple than they have done so already!

So this week marks an important milestone in the future of Loreto Bay – our first retail store providing us with the little treats and extras, along with the convenience of having essentials readily available near-by. Something that we all take for granted back home – the ubiquitous “C-Store”, there’s one on every corner - but for those of us who call this community home (even temporarily) and have learned to live without that access and convenience, this small store begins the process of making this collection of buildings we live in, feel like a real community.

And for that we have Evan and Julie, and their dreams and ambitions to thank – they are truly putting their money, and their future on the line – “if we build it, they will come”! So I will close this with a strong encouragement to all Loreto Bay Homeowners, those who are here, and the many who will come back during this winter, please, help yourself and this couple, support their store and their dream, because it takes a Village to make a Store – and that is a new dimension of “Living Loreto”.