EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Border merchants are preparing for the return of Mexican shoppers by stocking up on goods and making their shops visually attractive for post-Nov. 8 crowds.
“We’re getting the merchandise ready so that people find what they’re looking for,” said Miguel Hernandez, one of the managers at Yvan’s World novelty store on South El Paso Street. “We hope people come, that we have good sales and that this (situation) improves.”
Other merchants are encouraging their peers to add light displays to their storefronts and play music inside, to keep their locale clean, display their goods in an eye-pleasing manner and avoid showing merchandise straight out of the cardboard boxes they unloaded from trailers.
“We are very happy we’re going to see our customers (after) 20 months, or close to two years,” said Gustavo Tavera, proprietor of The Tee Box on South El Paso Street. “They come because they like our products, they like the quality and the prices that we offer.”
But while they’re certain they’ll see a huge spike in northbound traffic at the international bridges between El Paso and Juarez, Mexico due to the rollback of non-essential land border travel restrictions, most don’t expect sales to pick up right away.
“I’m sure the bridges are going to be at full capacity. But for shopping, I would expect the streets to be full maybe on the weekend. Not on Monday, not on Tuesday because children go to school and people maybe have more important things (to do),” Tavera said. “Maybe they’re going to cross over here to see family members … to the doctor, or bank, food shopping or something else […] But here in Downtown, I would expect them on the weekend.”
On Monday, the U.S. government for the first time in nearly 20 months will allow fully vaccinated Mexicans with valid visas to come across the border for non-essential reasons such as visiting friends and family, tourism, and shopping. The restrictions went into effect in March 2020 to stem the cross-border spread of COVID-19, which is now trending down on both sides of the border.
In addition to valid visas, Mexicans coming over on Monday must state they’re fully vaccinated and carry proof.
El Paso merchants have felt the absence of their Mexican clients to the tune of a 50% to 90% drop in sales during the pandemic. Mexican shoppers usually account for between 8% and 14% of El Paso’s $13 billion-a-year retail economy, a University of Texas at El Paso economist told Border Report this year. The easing of travel restrictions might mean an additional 1 million border crossings per year in the El Paso-Juarez area, said UTEP’s Tom Fullerton.
Such an increase in pedestrian and passenger vehicle traffic could bring about hours-long waits at the U.S. ports of entry and lead to late afternoon traffic jams on streets and freeway exits leading back to Mexico, which were common prior to the pandemic. The City of El Paso says it’s aware of the risks and has been planning to minimize problems.
“In anticipation of the reopening of the border we have consistently been in communication with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to be fully prepared for the increase in crossings,” said David Coronado, managing director of international bridges and economic development. “We are also in close coordination with our Police Department to ensure that we have enhanced traffic control plans to better manage congestion near the ports of entry.”
The city also is expanding its P3 Program, in which it reimburses up to $1.6 million a year in overtime hours to CBP so the federal agency can keep additional inspection lanes staffed at peak traffic hours.