The recession may be hurting many retailers this holiday season, but the malls, restaurants and restaurants in Tucson, Ariz., are busy with Mexican shoppers pouring across the border to buy more products at lower prices that they couldn't' find at home.
Even with devaluation of the Mexican peso against the dollar, and having to spend a few hours in traffic to cross the border into the United States, the deals are worth it to the Mexican shoppers, according to a story in the New York Times.
"We can find everything we want and it's much cheaper," Aurelia Peralta told the Times. Peralta, 38, traveled to Tucson from Hermosillo, a city of 700,000 about 200 miles south of Tucson. She said that popular Christmas gifts cost twice as much in Hermosillo.
For Americans looking to turn the tables, deals have often been found in Mexico on medicine and drugs that don't need a prescription, along with dentistry, some surgeries. But be wary, bringing illegal drugs back, such as steroids, can lead to legal trouble, as it did for Jose Canseco. Last summer, when gas prices were high, Americans were driving across the border for cheaper gas.
An interesting part of shopping in Mexico is the ability to haggle. Tijuana offers a short and inexpensive trip to Americans living near that border, and unique gifts abound.
Mexican visitors spend more than $300 million a year in the Tucson metropolitan area, according to a 2002 study by the Economic and Business Research Program at the University of Arizona. Tucson attracts 3.46 million visitors from Mexico each year. And businesses are doing all they can to keep the tourists coming back.
The Radisson Suites Tucson started providing large trash bags to Mexican guests so they could discard wrapping materials for shoes, clothes and other items before returning home. They throw away the packaging and put their items in suitcases to avoid high duties on new purchases when they re-enter Mexico.
Many pay entirely in cash and save for the whole year for the Christmas shopping spree. One shopper, Fernando Escalante, 39, attributed the Mexican shoppers such as himself to the fact that Mexicans are in a better position to weather economic turmoil because many own their homes outright and don't carry large amounts of credit card debt.
"If we have it, we own it and we have already paid for it," Escalante told the Times.
Americans might be able to learn something from these Mexican shoppers in fighting a recession: Don't be scared.
J. Felipe Garcia, vice president of community affairs and Mexico marketing for the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that despite the same economic troubles gripping Mexico, they still shop.
"The mentality of the Mexican visitor in these times of economic crisis is very different than in the U.S.," Garcia said. "The people in the U.S. are afraid of spending. but people in Mexico, they are used to economic devaluations, recessions and crisis. In their mind, they are not scared."
Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at www.talesofanunemployeddad.blogspot.com