Sunday, April 18, 2010

warning! 7-11 at 2 o' clock

Despite its Hopper-esque aura, this photograph fills some of my expatriate friends with horror.  It is the very symbol of the Antichrist in corporate form.

Let me give you a little background.

In my neck of the beach, there are very few convenience stores.  Shopping is a chore.  But a social chore. 

Preparing an afternoon meal often means visiting three or more specialty shops.  Tortillas at one stand.  Vegetables at the corner grocery.  Pork at the butcher.

Very European.  Simply part of the culture that is Mexico.

But Mexico, like the rest of the world, has discovered time is a fixed asset.  Time spent shopping is time taken away from earning money or enjoying oneself (and often the two are the same thing).

Mexico is a middle income nation, and a large portion of its population is joining its middle class.  Those are the people who start looking for convenience stores -- both for status and time.

On my visits to Manzanillo, I have seen Mexican convenience stores (Kioska, Oxxo) mixed in with north of the border favorites (Walmart, Office Depot, KFC). 

If you walked into an Oxxo store, you could easily imagine that you were in a 7-11 -- except Oxxos are far cleaner than 7-11s.  You can buy a wiener warming itself on hot rollers, soft drinks, chips, and small jars of the type of things you need in a hurry.

Every time I walk into one of the Manzanillo Oxxos, the place is abuzz with young Mexicans driving nice cars.

But they did not exist north of Manzanillo to my home.  Until now.

Recently, two Oxxos and a Kioska opened in the neighboring village of Barra de Navidad.  The village is a middle class area.  The fact that three convenience stores showed up within weeks of each other is testament to that.

Their presence has scandalized some of my Canadian and American friends.  The fear is that the little corner grocery store run by an aged widow will be run out of business. 

But, I doubt it.  Expatriates will continue to patronize the boutique stores for their atmosphere.  We can afford to pay for shabby chic. 

But, as Mexicans become wealthier, they are going to want better prices, better services, and more convenience.  The search for excellence is what will destroy the local store.

So far, no one has targeted my poor little village for a corporate convenience store.  So, the poor in my neighborhood will go on paying too much money for the inconvenience.

I suppose it is just a matter of time. 


Tancho said...

Your story brings a certain sadness to me, because as I get older I long for a more simple life, sans the hurry and polish that comes with these stores. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy stepping into one of them when we are on the road longing for a half decent cup of coffee or an ice drink. The demise of the small store will happen, first their turn over of inventory will slow, then the patrons will realize that the quality has left along with the reason to shop there.
When I first exited my home town of San Francisco, I left for a more simpler life, without traffic for a bucolic country life. Then within 25 years all the reasons of my exodus had disappeared and caught up with me prompting my desire for the slow life possibly south. The trick is to find such a place where the pace is slow, the life basic but I think you would have to give up stuff like the Internet and being in touch with a cellphone.
Too bad there is not a happy medium.

Theresa in Mèrida said...

We have an Extra (like OXXO et al) maybe two blocks from us. It hasn't affected the little tiendas. 7/11 doesn't sell one cigarette or one garbage bag.I once bought a quarter cup of raisins from Don Ernesto. I had run out and was in the middle of making picadillo, so I took my measuring cup with me across the street! You can't do that at the Extra.
When Dunosusa (a local mini-supermarket that also caters to wholesalers) opened a store next to a tienda. It still didn't change things much. The tienda owner doesn't have as far to go to buy wholesale, he buys a case and gets a price break. The Dunosusa doesn't sell produce or do special orders. I can ask Don Ernesto to pick me up a ripe avocado when he goes to the mercado. He gets eggs delivered daily from the egg man etc.
Things change slowly here.

Leah Flinn said...

In Veracruz city there are tons of convenience stores, and even more of the boutique stores. I think they can co-exist because the convenience stores don't always sell the same things and at least here, the Oxxo-types are more expensive. The majority of people who shop there are buying credit for their cell phones, or a quick snack.

Anonymous said...

Oxxos have some of the highest prices you'll find anywhere. Any half-clever abarrote owner should be able to compete just fine.


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where we have lots of inconvenience stores

Anonymous said...

Your story reminds me of the great early booming days of television. As television elbowed its way into our lives in the early 50s, it brought with it a whole new cultural nexus of items associated with its demands on time and comfort.

We frozen tv dinners, easily popped into the oven and heated in no time at all, allowing the entire family, with its metal tv trays, to sit down to watch Life with Riley, or Ozzie and Harriet, while chowing down on mysteriously prepared turkey, chicken, and Salisbury steak dinners -- always in some sort of gravy.

And then there was TV Time Popcorn, all individually wrapped in an aluminum pie tin, ready to heat and serve, no fussing around with getting out the pot, heating up oil to the right temp. It was all there ready for you to just heat up. God only knows what the yellow lubricant was on those kernels.

My mother, always with the times, had a Chinese tv lounging outfit, a kind of fancy set of silk pajamas. One didn't wish to be confined while watching one's favorite tv show. I mean, nothing better than watching Gunsmoke while lying back on the couch, feeling that luxurious silk against the skin.

There were nay sayers then, worried about the dumbing down of America, the loss of family values, no eating dinner together, the loss of American family cohesion.

But as we see, none of that occurred. Instead, we have a vibrant, active culture of little obsessive compulsive monkeys, carrying their pocket computers everywhere, vigorously fingering the keys like Zen monks in a monastery, oblivious to the world around them.

What's to fear?


Nita said...

You mention Mexicans becoming wealthier. Where is this source of wealth coming from?

Brenda said...

Here there are LOTS of Oxxo and Extra stores and they are more expensive than the little family run tiendas. They seem to co-exist fine.
Personally I never shop at the Oxxo and Extra stores, I prefer to give my money to a family run business and save myself a few pesos at the same time.

Steve Cotton said...

Tancho -- I think Felipe is correct. Economically, Mexico is about 50 years behind The States. I certainly found that true with my recent injury. I felt as if I had been billed at Mast Hospital in Myrtle Point by our family doctor. If that is true, we may witness some of the same changes we went through five decades ago. It will be interesting.

Theresa -- Great point. The two types of stores appear to cater to different customers. Perhaps they can coexist.

Leah -- I agree with you and Theresa. My experiences with OXXOs is very limited.

Kim -- Supply and demand seems to be a foreign concept in my neighborhood.

ANM -- Ah, yes. Dat ol' debil TV. As you know, the television was exiled from my house about 20 years ago. Surprisingly, it did nothing for my family values.

Nita -- Like every country, Mexicans become wealthy through wealth transfers and inheritances. But, most people become wealthier through a vibrant economy based on free trade.

Brenda -- As a user, I agree. I continue to support my local grocer.

Leslie Limon said...

I am so glad that we don't have any of these "conveniences"!

Steve Cotton said...

Leslie -- But they do provide some consistency in products that the local stores do not.