Tuesday, June 26, 2018

hugs and kisses

Construction seems to come in two speeds in my little village by the sea.

Some buildings (mostly residences) are built in spurts. Lots of activity will occur in a few weeks. And then -- nothing. A second story addition may repose as a single story house for years.

Adam Smith could explain why. My neighbors build when they have saved enough disposable income to purchase materials. If there are no savings, there is no construction.

The second category also has a Smithean whiff about it. Commercial construction, like bungalows, can go from concept to completion in a few months. And it needs to be completed quickly. Alter all, it is impossible to recapture capital investment if the building sits uncompleted.

I have a new neighbor that is encapsulated by the second category. I told you about it just a month ago (does that translate to hugs and kisses?) when the walls were under construction. A new OXXO store.

For those of you who do not live in Mexico, OXXO is a convenience store. Almost indistinguishable from a 7-11. Their life blood is beer and cigarettes. With chips and sodas thrown in as runners-up.

Just before Darrel and Christy left for Oregon in mid-April, Christy noted the lot across the street from the guy who collects plastic was being cleaned up. She thought it might be a civic  beautification project. It turned out to be new construction.

I stopped by today to talk with the contractor and the people who will be running the store. If all goes well, the store will be operating next week. The shelves and coolers are installed. They just need some inventory.

Fast construction is one of the benefits when your corporation is in the same holding company as Coca-Cola FEMSA.

The OXXO store seems to be oddly located. Around here, OXXO (and its local competitor, Kiosko) cater, in large part, to tourists. There are already three convenience stores in the heart of the tourist section of Barra de Navidad.

My neighborhood is not a tourist magnet. Or, at least, I don't think it is. But, I may be proceeding from a false premise (as Mr Spock would, and did, say). Maybe tourists are not the target market for this particular store.

The main street that runs through this section of town is well-served by small mom and pop grocery stores (as well as a large grocery store). Every country has them.

When I was in grade school, I would stop every afternoon at a combination garage-grocery store, run by Mr. and Mrs. Persyn. where I would spend the few pennies I had squirreled away from my milk money for one or two pieces of black licorice.

The place was ramshackle and filthy. The hands selling the licorice were so caked with grease that it was hard to discern where the finger stopped and the candy began. You almost expected Mayella Ewell to walk out from behind the pickle barrel. Yes. There was a pickle barrel where hands were washed only by dill brine.

Our little grocery stores here are nowhere near that gothic. All of them are run by family members who fight like Canute to repel the tide of dust that settles hourly on their products.

Why there are so many of these small stores, I have no idea. There are several more scattered throughout the inner part of the neighborhood.

One answer is to provide convenience to their customers. The stores stock the basic staples to cook a daily meal -- but, usually, not meat. A trip to the butcher is required for that.

Today, I was cooking hot dogs and discovered someone had used up the last two buns. Rather than jumping in the car and driving to Safeway, as I would have done in Salem, I merely walked two blocks to the local grocery and picked up the same package of buns. For a slightly higher price.

So, what will OXXO add to our neighborhood where we already have convenience stores aplenty?

Economists tell us that businesses can offer their customers one of three things: 1) price savings, 2) quality, or 3) service. Since our little grocery stores sell the same quality products at the same price, they exist because they can provide service that customers do not find elsewhere. That is why grumpy store owners run the risk of scaring people away to friendlier climes.

Oddly, every Mexican neighbor (we will leave the northerners out of this sentence) I talked with is excited about the opening of the store. Well, "excited" may be a bit of hyperbole. Let's say, they are looking forward to the store. The only ambivalence came from the owners of the current grocery stores.

Most of my neighbors said they were happy to see that Barra de Navidad is becoming modern. They also see the store as a place for new jobs. For the community, it will be nice to have a business actually chipping in to the tax base.

The only naysayers I encountered were my fellow expatriates. Or, some of them. They do not like seeing what they fled from up north following them to their "paradise."

I will not respond to that. Instead, I will let a Mexican take the talking stick.

I met Maria on a message board in 2008. She lives in Mexico City and works for a large transnational telecommunications company. I posed the northerners' opposition to her. This is her response.

"I would like to respond politely to arguments like that, but, it is difficult for me. I run into a lot of people who move here from Canada and the United States. For some reason, they seem to have trouble with modernity. They would like my country to be frozen in amber for their personal pleasure. As if, serape-clad peons siestaing against a cactus while their trusty burros patiently wait is what Mexico should be about.

"That is not Mexico. Mexico is a proud member of the first world. It has the tenth largest population. The thirteenth largest in size. And, some people are surprised at this, it is a member of the OECD with the world's fifteenth largest GDP.

"We work in glass towers at well-paying jobs where we deal daily with colleagues throughout the world. We are growing larger and better every day.

"I am proud to be a modern woman in Mexico. I do things my mother would never have imagined back in her village as a young girl. Modern Mexico has given me the opportunity that would not exist if northern prejudices prevailed.

"If you want to stop time, please feel free to do it in your country. For me, OXXO is a place to get a coffee at a fair price and to enjoy it in an air-conditioned building."

I was going to edit some of the tone. But that would have been unfair to Maria.

And she does make a good point. Maybe it is the air-conditioning that will attract customers.

That may have been the business plan all along. The ultimate service provider. 


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