Christmas Keeps Getting Earlier

November 19, 2012

Downtown El Paso was abuzz with activity this past weekend, no rx as throngs turned out for the city’s first Downtown Holiday Shop Fiesta. Staged on South El Paso Street between the downtown core and the Santa Fe Bridge border crossing with Ciudad Juarez, recipe the event featured roving mariachis, story Brazilian samba, Christmas carolers, street food, and mural painting. At  bargain prices, merchants displayed clothing, shoes, backpacks, dollar slippers, Spiderman coloring books, electronic products, flowers, sink strainers, brooms, and dust pans-virtually every product imaginable.

“Beat Black Friday’s long lines and early starts a week early with the DWNTWN Sales,” pitched a Facebook posting advertising the event. The November 17 fiesta was sponsored by the El Paso Central Business Association, Downtown Management District, Downtown Shopping District and the City of El Paso Museum and Cultural Affairs Department.

“Bueno, Bonito, Barato-” “Good, Pretty and Cheap,” barked a woman to crowds that streamed in front of stores where rock, pop, cumbia and electronica sounds danced from radios and sound systems into the streets. A poster of a topless Playboy bunny, Miss October, stood hanging next to a shop from which Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” blasted out into the fall day, while a black limousine squeezed up the street.

Garment merchant Yu Young said many people were just “window-shopping,” but sales personnel at two other stores down the street reported good sales with “more than a normal” customer flow.

Ruby Hernandez, co-owner of Krystal Jeans, told FNS that her store was having a very good day. “I think we’ve had a good turn-out. I’ve seen a lot of shoppers out here from different places,” Hernandez said, mentioning Far East El Paso, New Mexico and Ciudad Juarez as among the places where customers hailed. Krystal Jeans offered jeans beginning at $9.99 a pair as well as a drawing for an iPad.

As customers crowded around the check-out counter inside, Hernandez’s store was getting an exterior face-lift. A crew of artists from the Urban Art-Fitters League was busy finishing a ‘winter wonderland” mural on one of the outside walls.

“It’s been a really neat experience because of the Christmas feel, especially in the 79901, one of the poorest areas of the U.S.,” said a muralists’ spokesman named Silver IsReal.

According to the young man, the group is cooperating with city officials and local businesses to spruce up a six-block area from Overland to Sixth Street with murals in order to beautify the zone for upcoming events.

“Our goal is to get all the alleyways in the six blocks completed,” IsReal said. “Our intention is to have it done in the spring, so we can have alleyway markets and stuff..”

A high school girls’ choir contributed to the December atmosphere in November. Led by Roxanne Rios, Bowie High School choir director, the singers delivered a bilingual medley of Christmas carols including “Joy to the World,” Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad” and “Peces en el Rio,” or “Fish in the River,” a Spanish-language song  Rios described as being a borderland favorite and having a “kind of funny” story behind it.

A melody of Spanish conversation along South El Paso Street gave away the heavy presence of shoppers from Ciudad Juarez and Mexico. Like other downtown merchants, the Hernandez family is dependent on Mexican customers year-round. Ruby Hernandez estimated that “85 percent” of her customers come from Ciudad Juarez or other towns in the state of Chihuahua. Besides retailing, Hernandez said she wholesales products to Mexican buyers.

But some clients still report problems in crossing the border, Hernandez said, adding that a woman she knows complained about waiting more than three hours to navigate the pedestrian crossing of the Santa Fe Bridge into the U.S. last week. In addition to possible delays at the U.S. port of entry, Mexican motorists driving into Ciudad Juarez from the interior last weekend confronted waits of more than one hour in some instances to clear the Mexican army checkpoint south of the border city, according to a report in El Diario newspaper.

El Paso’s premier downtown holiday fiesta was the district merchants’ answer to not only Black Friday USA, but also to an event that was simultaneously underway in Ciudad Juarez and throughout Mexico.

Inspired by the longtime Black Friday shopping blitz in the U.S., Mexican businesses held the second annual “Buen Fin” pre-holiday sales extravaganza the weekend of November 16-19. The commercial event coincided with the long holiday weekend that commemorates the 1910 Revolution.

First launched by the Calderon administration in conjunction with business chambers in 2011, the promotion was created to give a boost to businesses by luring customers with discounts and extended payment options.

For the second year in a row, Mexican government agencies accelerated payment of annual Christmas bonuses to their employees in a bid to get money circulating early in the holiday season economy. The initial Mexican media reports of this year’s reception to the “Buen Fin”  were reminiscent of Black Friday on this side of the border: shoppers waiting for stores to open, frantic customers grabbing up coveted goods and the steady zip of credit card numbers marching  across cyberspace and into the bottom lines of banks and department stores.

The “Buen Fin” was also heavily advertised in Spanish-language media that reach consumers in El Paso and southern New Mexico, and some local news outlets reported a heavy turnout of U.S. shoppers to Ciudad Juarez shopping malls over the weekend. Additionally, the border parking lots closest to the Santa Fe Bridge that are used by people walking over to Ciudad Juarez were completely full early on the morning of November 17.

But the flow of pedestrians heading back over the Santa Fe Bridge to Ciudad Juarez indicated that downtown El Paso more than held its own against the potential competition from the “Buen Fin” As Saturday afternoon wore on, people of all ages strolled up to the bridge lugging merchandise of all kinds in large plastic sacks, duffel bags, suitcases with wheels, bulging boxes, Spiderman bags, and hand carts. At one point, the crowd was so thick a line formed in front of the booth that collects bridge fares required from pedestrians going to Mexico.

A pair of women walking back to Ciudad Juarez told FNS that prices were still generally better in the Sun City than Ciudad Juarez in spite of some recent increases and the supposed discounts offered during the “Buen Fin.”

Next weekend, the traditional, post-Thanksgiving jump start to Christmas shopping, promises another busy time in El Paso’s border shopping district. Unlike Walmart and other large outfits that intend to inch up “Black Friday” to Thanksgiving day itself this year,  Krystal Jeans plans to close on turkey day,  Ruby Hernandez vowed. “I want to enjoy,” the border businesswoman said.

Meanwhile, the ring of cash registers and the flash of credit cards will likely be intense at El Paso night spots the evening before Thanksgiving, a night regarded by many in the bar business as the busiest one of the year and which has now acquired the name “Black Wednesday.”

-Kent Paterson

Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico

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