NUEVO PROGRESO, Mexico (Border Report) — Roy and Anna Gonzalez cross the international bridge from Progreso, Texas, to Nuevo Progreso, Mexico, about twice a month to go to the dentist, buy prescriptions and grab an authentic Mexican meal.
“Dentist, medicine, whatever. I enjoy the food. I get to buy some knickknacks and stuff,” Roy Gonzalez said on a recent hot Saturday as the couple from San Benito, Texas, waited to buy a cold beer at an outdoor market here.
Like many Americans, the Gonzalezes walk across the Progreso International Bridge, which only costs $1 (It only costs 30 cents to return from Mexico). They said they feel safe here and this area caters to tourists and Americans coming to shop.
“The worst part is the pedestrian line to return to the United States. That’s frustrating,” Roy Gonzalez said.
The couple said they’re getting older, but they don’t necessarily consider themselves in the same class as the seniors who come down from northern states and Canada to winter in balmy South Texas.
Those are called Winter Texans, or “Converted Texans,” which is a new term given to the increasing number of seniors who are making South Texas their full-time home.
Most Winter Texans arrive by November, so on this early September Saturday, the open street market and shops weren’t yet filled with the familiar flip-flops, shorts-wearing men and women who will soon start coming en masse.
“It’s a little early,” said Jesus Cortez, who was standing on the sidewalk trying to entice shoppers into the pharmaceutical store called Jessica’s, where he works. “Winter Texans are good business for Mexico.”
Jessica’s also doubles as a dentist’s office,
This shopping area is not big, but it is usually packed. It’s just a few blocks full of merchants on both sides of the street leading to the international bridge. American shoppers don’t have to leave this drag to find an ample supply of dentists, medical doctors, prescriptions, vitamins, pet medications, clothing, home goods and a lot of authentic Mexican food.
Longias, or specialty beef sandwiches, are quite popular and tasty here, locals say, and a plate of three can be bought for about $1.
On this Saturday, lively music vibrates throughout the streets and gets louder by the hour as more and more people come to shop.
Everywhere are signs for pharmacies, dentists, doctors, barbers, manicures, pedicures, Botox and plastic surgery.
Spotters who work for merchants are positioned on doorposts trying to entice shoppers into their buildings.
“Diet pills. I have diet pills,” a man says in English to a lady.
Inside the pharmaceutical shops, most bear signs prohibiting cameras or videotapes. But medications and counters are strategically placed. For instance, at one popular shop, there are medicines to prevent pregnancy in one area and medications to help get pregnant or test for pregnancy in another. The shops don’t ask for prescriptions.
Border Report has been told the reason filming is not allowed is because Mexican law forbids selling medications to foreigners without prescriptions, but nobody ever seems to ask for a prescription here.
Ed Herlay didn’t need one. This former Nebraska transplant who for the past 12 years has lived here in a trailer park in Donna, recently went to Nuevo Progreso and said he can now see better.
“I got these glasses and they were $200 for the eye exam, frame, lenses. Everything. This would have been $600 in the states,” he said.
“The cost here is zero compared to up North. Our eye doctor, dentist and pharmacist are all in Mexico. It’s very reasonable,” said Herlay.
“No appointment needed,” said Julio Martinez, who works for dentist Dr. Ruben Olmedo and who was standing outside his offices trying to get visitors inside.
“The stuff is really cheap and the atmosphere is nice,” said Jamie Young, of Victoria, Texas, who was shopping with daughter Michaela.
Young says twice a year she makes the four-hour drive to Progreso, Texas, and then walks over the bridge to shop for home essentials.
“In this town, we live on tourists. If there are no tourists there’s no business,” said Chiquilin Medina, who makes and sells wallets and belt buckles at a street both.
Medina said most of the winter tourists are here starting in November and they stay until Easter.
Norma Garcia came with her friend Donna Eyles and Garcia’s 17-year-old daughter. The trio bought so much Mexican tile that they had to roll it back over the international bridge in a red wagon.
“It’s totally safe here,” Garcia said as she waited in a line with hundreds of others waiting to cross the U.S. Customs and Border Protection bridge checkpoint, which was about a 30-minute wait.
“We’ll tell people about it. And we’ll be back,” Garcia said.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at SSanchez@BorderReport.com. She is traveling with a crew from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas, reporting on the Southwest border.