NPR Story
7:02 am
Thu March 28, 2013

Semana Santa Means Retail Pilgrimage To The US

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — This week is Semana Santa – or Holy Week. It’s a big week in Mexico, when schools cancel classes and businesses take a holiday for the last week of Lent before Easter. And it’s a big week for retailers in the Southwest, because Mexican shoppers cross the border in droves.

For San Antonio, it’s one of the biggest weeks of the year for retail sales, and hopes are high for this year’s Semana Santa spending spree because of a powerful peso.

Music pulsates at San Antonio’s Shops at La Cantera, a high-end shopping mall. The cash registers are also pulsating as shoppers from Mexico are here looking for deals and quality merchandise.

Aldolfo Muzquiz is from the state of Coahuila. He and his family make several trips here a year, but Holy Week is a special time to leave Mexico.

“You basically shut down all the commerce and all the work there so the people have the chance to go to the states and do their shopping as well as relax during vacation,” Muzquiz said.

Muzquiz adds he and his family feel safer shopping in the U.S. with the ongoing violence in his country. Even with a stronger peso, Maria Ortiz from Guadalajara says she has more buying power here.

“In Mexico everything is expensive. Everything. Here? No. There sales are very good for us,” she said.

The Mexican peso is enjoying a two-year high in comparison to the dollar. And it’s trending up as there’s optimism that economic reforms in Mexico will spur greater growth.

That’s a good trend for San Antonio merchants like Humberto Fuentes who cater to Mexican shoppers. He’s an assistant manager at a Clark’s, which sells shoes and purses. He says during Holy Week, Mexican nationals boost sales about 60 percent.

“I think it’s an extra push, it doesn’t make us or break us but it definitely helps us with achieving our budgets, our goals for the end of the year,” Fuentes said.

However, Holy Week isn’t the only Mexican boost Texas gets — Christmas and July are also high spending times for visitors. Ramiro Cavazos of San Antonio’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce says the owner of two of the city’s affluent shopping malls, including La Cantera, reports patrons from Mexico make up 50 to 60 percent of the shopping clientele during these time periods. He claims many flock to Texas due to its friendly climate.

“I think they’re coming here because they feel welcome," Cavazos said.

Cavazos said San Antonio is a bilingual city and culturally connected to Mexico. But says some other Southwestern metropolitan areas are not.

The economic impact here as whole is clear. In a three-year study of 20 Texas counties the credit card company VISA monitored the spending habits of Mexican nationals. There was a 66 percent increase in spending from March to April last year. In dollars, that’s a jump from $168 million to $279 million.

Steve Niven is an economist with the Saber Institute, a creation of San Antonio’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and St. Mary’s University. They study regional economies. Nivin says boosts like this are something you would not see in other parts of the country.

“If you’re the metropolitan economy of Kansas City you’re probably not going to see these kinds of impacts. It’s a nice little addition to our economy that provides more diversification in our economy, and helps provide a little stability as well,” Nivin said.

This kind of economic impact is unique to the southern border. And as Mexico’s economy continues on the upswing with a growing middle class, Holy Week spending could increase as its proven in the last three years of the study.

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