Tienditas | Mexico | Living in Mexico


The corner grocery store is alive and well in Mexico. Many people—perhaps most people—do not own cars, so traveling for miles to a supermarket is impractical.

When we lived in Glen Ellen, Palo Alto or San Jose, we always drove to the store. There was no place to buy a loaf of bread within walking distance. So we'd fire up the SUV and make the ten-mile, half-hour round trip drive to Safeway for a two-dollar purchase.

The paucity of privately owned cars in Mexican towns creates an ecological niche for tiny little stores, called tienditas.


A typical tiendita

The common characteristics of tienditas are: a small amount of floor space almost entirely covered with racks, boxes and cases of merchandise, a very limited selection heavy on snack foods and soft drinks, and little or no lighting. Some are named: Aborretes Velasquez. Many are not. In these, only a few bakery or Coca-Cola logos announce their presence.

In the unlit interior of the typical tiendita pictured above, we see on offer: soft drinks, fruit juices, a few cans of Campbell's soup, bottles of salsa, five-gallon jugs of drinking water, Twinkie-like snacks and Kelloggs Corn Flakes. Other shops offer toiletries. Some sell dog kibble; an open 40-pound bag sits on the floor from which you scoop as much as you need.

On the right side of the pictured tiendita is a glassed-in case on a rickety wooden table. What does it contain?


Junk food

Well, it contains deep-fried orange styrofoam snacks, a great favorite, especially with schoolchildren. For a peso, you get a narrow plastic bag full of hardened foam, with red salsa dumped on top. Sometimes you get chopped peppers and onions, providing a modicum of nutrition. Kids stick their grubby little hands in their bags and fish out spicy crispy gunk that they munch as they walk down the street. When they have eaten it all, what remains is a plastic bag with about an inch of red liquid at the bottom, which they throw on the street.

Once a fat kid walking with his fat, middle-class mother, threw his bag at my feet, splattering my shoes with goop. I said to the mom, "¡Que triste! tirar basura en la calle." (How sad, to throw garbage in the street!) The mother glared at me and steered her son away from the loco gringo.

Tienditas are always located in a spare room in the family home. Usually a door is put through an outside wall into a bedroom, but some new homes are built with space specially designed for little shops. Lupe Cano, who worked on our ranch in Glen Ellen for many years, built a four-bedroom home on a corner lot in his hometown of Capilla de Milpillas, in which he hopes to live when he retires. The ground floor corner room has a pair of roll-up steel doors, so he can set up his tiendita whenever he returns to Mexico.

Tienditas provide a small source of ready cash, difficult to come by in Mexico. Our next door neighbors, the Rodriguez sisters, once operated one. I would have thought they would have done well with it, since our location, adjacent to Juarez park should provide good foot traffic. But they closed it last week because it didn't make enough money to be worth the effort. Too many rich Nortamericanos live in the neighborhood, and they don't shop much in tienditas.

The closure causes a problem for us. We buy our five-gallon jugs of drinking water from them, since we only have to carry them a few feet to our own door. Fortunately, we can have water delivered. We'll just have to call the Santorini man and ask him to put us on his route. He'll probably wind up delivering the same amount of water to us as he did to the Rodriguez sisters; I think we were the only people who bought water from them.

By the way, the "Bimbo" sign is the trade name for a bread company. And it's pronounced "Beem-boe;" not the way you think it is.