January 20, 2006

Make your bids!

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

“Who gives me five dollars for this television?” asks Enrique Ezparza to the group of people around him.

He hasn’t even finished asking, when a woman has already raised her hand –and then another woman and another man.

Enrique begins counting the raising hands: “Six dollars, seven dollars, eight dollars, nine dollars, 10 dollars!”

Suddenly the hands stop raising.

“Anybody offers more?” asks Enrique.

Nobody answers. “The television is sold to the lady for 10 dollars!”

And the auction continues, passing through the rest of the televisions, radios, microwave ovens until they reach the vacuums, the DVD players.

All of these items have a destination: Tijuana.

Maybe you have asked yourself where does all that stuff that’s sold in Tijuana’s sobrerruedas, or swap-meets, come from.

The answer is not too far from here.

They come from the Goodwill Store, in San Ysidro, where seven days a week auctions are held. The auctions include from toys to furniture, and from clothes to electronics. It is here where Tijuana merchants, most of whom sell their merchandise at swap-meets, make their best offer to purchase what they will sell in Tijuana.

Goodwill receives all the items as donations from throughout San Diego County.

More than going out to buy merchandise for their stores, it seems as if the Tijuana merchants are out for treasure hunting.

The auctions are held informally and they begin around 10:30 a.m. They start with the big clothing bins where one can find old blouses to faded jeans. Although merchants can’t really see what they’re buying before they buy it, they can get an idea buy pulling something out from the top of the bin.

The Goodwill Store in San Ysidro receives everything that the other 14 stores in San Diego County discard.

“It’s really a wheel of fortune buying at this store,” said Martha Patricia Penilla, who has a swap-meet stand at the Otay sobrerruedas. “Inside those boxes one finds everything in any sort of conditions. The good thing is that it’s cheap, so if you get some bad items, you can make it up with the rest of the stuff.”

Penilla said that each week she invests about 200 dollars at the auctions. Once she’s at the swap-meet, that number can double or even triple.

“It’s a good business,” she said.

The auctions continues with the furniture, that can include desks and complete living room sets.

But what interests people the most are electronics, which are what they can make the most profit out of.

The store sells about $2.5 million every year, and about 99% of the costumers come from Baja California, said Virginia Piña, sales supervisor for Goodwill in San Ysidro.

Goodwill is a nonprofit company that uses the money it makes selling these donations to pay its employees and to sponsor vocational training programs, she said.

In order to participate in the auctions, people have to sign a contract where they have to agree not to fight with others.

In the past, it was common that when there was a really good item for auction, such as a camcorder, two merchants would get in a fight if one made a better offer than the other, Piña said.

“If I see something that catches my attention and I know it would sell at a good price, I make bids until I win it. But if I don’t get it I don’t care,” said Dalia Barraza, who owns a thrift store in Colonia Salvatierra.

Each day, between 200 to 300 merchants arrive here, almost all of them from Tijuana. This is the reason why the auctions are held in Spanish.

“Costumers come here two to three times a week, others only come once a month,” Piña said.

Some people, wanting to get the best merchandise, arrive here around 5:30 a.m., even though auctions don’t start until 10:30 a.m.

In the parking lot, one can see the dozens of vans and pick-ups where merchants carry their merchandise to Tijuana.

“It’s good to arrive early because you have more opportunity to get the best stuff,” Barraza said, who comes to the Goodwill store three times a week and spends about 250 dollars.

But not all the merchants who buy at the San Ysidro Goodwill come from Tijuana. Some come from Ensenada and Rosarito. Others come all the way from Baja California Sur.

Such is the case of Juan Manuel Castillo, who has a thrift store in the town of Vizcaíno, Baja California Sur.

He comes once a month and in each trip invests from 3,000 to 4,000 dollars.

“I spend about four or five days and I buy stuff in the auctions,” he said. “I stay here all day, seeing what it’s good to take overthere.”

Martha Patricia Penilla is getting the boxes of clothes she bought on the truck. It’s about 1 p.m. and she’s heading back to Tijuana. She put away 30 dollars just in case Customs charges her taxes in the Mexican side.

Penilla takes a look at the merchandise she bought and smiles.

“Next week, I’ll come and purchase another big lot.”

The San Ysidro Goodwill Store is located at 626 Front St. Auctions are held daily, including weekends.

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