Sunday, December 28, 2014

Big Boxes arrive in Loreto

The week before last there was another significant milestone (kilometer marker?) in the current history of Loreto - the opening of the latest addition to our retail options: Bodega Aurrera, a mini Walmart clone.  This comes just over a year after Lay opened the first chain Supermarket in Loreto, which I have referred to before here in passing. 

One of the challenges I have found with shopping at the Lays is that the parking lot on two sides of the newly built building is too small for the size of the store and the number of customers who want to shop  here.  So much so, that shortly after the store opened they purchased a lot across the street to provide somewhat inconvenient overflow parking, but regardless, every time I have gone to the store I have had a problem with parking.

Of course, one could look at this parking congestion as a sign of a successful business, which I assume it is, but again my impression is that the parking lot seems busier than the store does inside, which I take to be the fault of poor design or planning.  In any event, inside the store it is like a smaller version of a typical North American supermarket with a small pharmacy and a bakery, butcher and deli counters with a good fresh fruit and vegetable department.  However, this selection and variety comes at a cost, the aisles in the store are too narrow and so shopping is slow due to traffic jams both inside and out of the store.

For this reason, and the complete absence of some "staple" items like butter (they do have a big selection of margarine) I prefer to do most of my shopping at what had previously been the largest market here, the independent and locally owned Pescador, which significantly "upped their game" prior to the opening of Lays.  While the parking lot is about half the size, it is possible for me to get in and out with the same load of groceries in about half the time, due in part, I admit, to being familiar with the store.

However, now we have a new "biggest" in town.  The Bodega Aurrera is about a block and a half down the same street as Lays and what strikes one first is the huge parking lot that opens off the rather narrow street entrance.  This far from the center of town the street grid is pretty informal, but the land appears to be a "frypan" lot with a narrow entrance opening up to a larger inner area, which is fairly common here in Loreto.  But it also suggests that whoever planned this development has learned something from their predecessor.

My first visit to the new store was the weekend after it had opened and the parking lot was about half full when I arrived, but this was probably more cars than could park in one place anywhere else in town.  As I approached the store entrance there was a colorful inflated temporary kiosk with enthusiastic young people all in matching logoed golf shirts handing out free balloons on sticks to the kids coming and going from the store.  But I also noticed that the unloading docks were along the one open side of the building and there were currently two trucks busy doing just that in one corner of the parking lot, which I could see may cause different parking issues in the future.

Inside the entrance was a general merchandise section of small appliances and some electronics including several large flat panel TVs and some large appliances like fridges on display, but further back the grocery store took over and what I saw was similar to the Lays store on a slightly bigger scale.  But one thing both stores have in common is the narrow, one way aisles - which were further congested here by stacks of boxes of product waiting to be unpacked along the edges of most of the aisles, making them even narrower.

Now I don't want to come across as an impatient type "A" North American shopper, so I do try to
adapt my shopping to a more laid back "recreational" approach, which seems to be the local style with both these store's clientele.  But when a whole family (Mom, Dad, and at least a couple of kids, maybe a Abuela {Grandmother} or two) are already halfway down the next aisle, I am just as likely to skip that one and head down another one rather than get stuck behind them - only to have to usually double back later to find the olives, or something.  Which is why I think I will continue to do most of my shopping  at Pescador, with occasional visits to the competition if I can't find something there. 

But it occurred to me that for most of the customers in the new store this was a big deal.  I'm sure many of them had visited larger stores before, when visiting neighboring cities.  But having another large store open here in a town the size of Loreto is a significant development and I can understand that for many local Loretanos the first shopping trip could be a noteworthy event for the whole family.  Added to the fact that as I said earlier, this Aurrera is a Walmart clone and, according to a local businessman I had talked to earlier in the Fall while the store was still under construction, they would be selling at lower prices than many of the existing local competition - which has the same appeal to working class Mexican families here as it does everywhere else, which has made Walmart the biggest retailer in the world.

This Blog is not the venue for Big Box Store Bashing - besides, I very much doubt anyone from these stores will ever read these words, but the downside of these new store openings is a plot familiar in many places, big store opens with lower prices, smaller local stores cannot compete, and wind up going out of business.  However, there are also some offsets - some new "corporate" jobs will no doubt help the local economy and replace some of the employment that may be lost, and the lower prices will help many hard pressed families stretch their wages.

But perhaps more importantly, it is another significant sign of progress as Loreto grows and develops, while still holding on to the charm and appeal of its natural beauty and local culture.  It is a familiar concept that progress comes at a price, and is sometimes a mixed blessing, but it is also the sign of a healthy growing community and that too is part of "Living Loreto".