By Pablo Jaime Sainz
Ever since Trinidad Lopez discovered how convenient it is to shop at the San Ysidro Swap-Meet, she doesn’t have to travel all the way to Los Angeles to buy the items, such as women’s clothes, she sells at the street market in Tijuana.
“I come and buy here at the swap-meet because I think it’s cheaper, closer and it’s almost always the same stuff that in Los Angeles,” said Lopez, while she picks and chooses a dozen of women’s sport pants. “I save time and money, because I’ve been to ‘the alleys’ in Los Angeles and it’s the same stuff. Besides, traffic in L.A. makes you lose a lot of time.”
Like Lopez, thousands of Tijuana residents cross the border every week to shop at the San Ysidro Swap-Meet that has become a tradition in the region.
And now with Christmas around the corner, the San Ysidro Swap-Meet is the perfect spot for holiday shopping for budget-tighten Tijuana residents.
For more than 16 years, the swap-meet has also been the ‘mall’ for owners of shops in mercados sobrerruedas (street markets) and swap-meets in Tijuana.
It also works as a good spot where families can spend the afternoon browsing through clothes and household items.
And the low prices are what attract more costumers.
Such is the case of Juana Mendez, who said she comes here to buy jeans for her sons.
“Here, with $30 I can buy several pieces, something I wouldn’t be able to do in Tijuana,” said the housewife.
In addition to its excellent prices, one can find almost anything in the San Ysidro Swap-Meet’s 300 stores: from tools for the car to toys for children; from dish sets for the newly wed to jackets for the winter cold weather.
It’s this variety and quality what makes Eva Quezada comes here once a month from Ensenada.
“It’s truly worth it, because it’s also a distraction for me to come and travel all the way over here,” said the woman, who’s carrying three plastic bags full of clothing items.
Store owners at the swap-meet know that the earnings they can make because of all the costumers are good. That’s why some of them think it’s a good investment.
“We’re doing excellent,” said Adriana Berber, whom for the past two years she’s been the owner of a beauty supply and novelty store. “Because of the number of people who come here from Tijuana we decided to open up a store here and we don’t regret it.”
And the swap-meet really depends on Tijuana residents to survive.
About 80% of costumers are from Baja California, according to Beatriz Galvis, spokesperson for García International Incorporated, the company that owns and operates the San Ysidro Swap-Meet.
Since it was founded, the swap-meet purchased five buses that offer costumers rides from the border to the swap-meet and back to the border for free.
But not everything is earnings at the swap-meet. While some store owners make thousands of dollars each week, others, such as Neelam Rawtani, who owns a women’s clothing store, said business isn’t as good as it may seem.
“I’ve lost a lot of money,” Rawtani said. “I don’t feel good about having this store because I spent all day behind the register and I don’t sell anything. There’s a lot of competition, almost every single store offers the same merchandise. If at another place I would’ve made a $5 from this jacket, here, due to the competition, I can only make $1 or $2. Definitively, I will shut down the store in January. It’s not a business anymore.”
Francisco Castro, who at the age of 20 already owns his own sporting goods store, shares Rawtani’s opinion and adds that Tijuana residents are the most difficult costumers to convince to purchase.
“I’ve noticed that people from Tijuana bargain a lot. People who come from San Diego or San Ysidro they come and buy, they don’t bargain as much.”
In his first year as a businessman, Castro said he’s doing “so-so” at the swap-meet.
“This is only a temporary thing for me. It’s just something to make a little bit of money.”
But December is here and store owners such as Anita Enriquez, who has owned a toy store for six years, hope that sales will increase this month.
“As it’s obvious, parents buy more toys for their children during this Holiday season. So I hope that I’ll make good money in December. I think people from Tijuana come to the swap-meet because we have better prices than in Mexico.”
Even employees get excited about sales going up in December, because that translates into higher commissions for them.
“Buy, buy, buy,” that’s all Guadalupe Macias said, who’s an employee at a shoe store.
And people already started to respond. Coming all the way from Sinaloa was Sara Beltrán.
“I’m vacationing in Tijuana, and since I have a visa to cross to the U.S., I came here to buy some gifts for the family. It’s cheaper here.”
Come in, come in!
The San Ysidro Swap-Meet is located at 2383 Via Segundo, in San Ysidro. It will open daily during December. Entrance fee is 50 cents.