Border economy suffers in wake of attacks

October 02, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — Merchants, city officials and the local Chamber of Commerce will meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Western Auto to discuss ways to revitalize Calexico's economy.

They will hear some sobering words from chamber Executive Director Hildy Carrillo-Rivera.

"It's going to get worse," she said Monday.

The merchants will meet on the second floor of Western Auto at 235 2nd St. Carrillo-Rivera invites all interested parties to attend.

In the weeks following the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S., Calexico merchants have complained of slumping sales and anemic foot traffic.

"It's true. All the stores downtown are being hit. When Wal-Mart is down on sales, everyone is affected," Carrillo-Rivera said.

Some merchants have said increased border security and longer waits for border-crossers — on both sides of the border — are among the causes of the recent downturn.


"What can be done?" Carrillo-Rivera asked rhetorically. "Well, we haven't given up. We support the federal government and trust them."

To trumpet the downtown area and Calexico in general, Carrillo-Rivera will propose a "shop at home campaign."

"We need you to shop in Calexico now. You need to shop here now," she said.

Managers at Sam Ellis department store, Garlan's Department Store and Super Shopping-Apple Market agree.

Benito Mendez, manager of the Sam Ellis men's wear department, said business has been "very, very slow" since Sept. 11.

"I can say 40 percent," he added of the drop.

The problem, according to Mendez, is the time it takes most border-crossers to get to Calexico and back into Mexico.

"I cross the border every day and it takes almost two hours to cross the border if I want to walk; sometimes an hour and 30 minutes," he said.

"But it's not just me. It's a problem for everybody who crosses the border. The inspections are very slow. They ask you a lot of questions," he added.

Mendez said, "If things continue like this it will the be the worst winter we've ever had. The inspectors need to hurry up."

Another problem is the inspectors on the Mexican side of the border.

He said his customers don't buy as much because, "When they go back to Mexico they inspect every car and every bag. They (the customers) are afraid to lose the merchandise."

Luis Macias, manager of the downtown Garlan's department store, said his store has been one of the few not affected negatively by the attack aftermath.

"We're doing the same — slightly better than last year," he said.

"For us it was slow for only three or four days after the attacks, but I've heard that some businesses are doing less," he added.

Joe Moreno, manager of Super Shopping-Apple Market, hasn't seen his business suffer too badly — down 6-10 percent since the attacks — but he's heard the stories Macias has.

"I've talked to other merchants and they have ghost towns in their businesses — slow, slow, slow," he said.

Moreno said "the merchants will address these issues at Wednesday's meeting."

Moreno has not been to Mexico since the attacks and he's heard tales from his customers and employees who have held back unless they really needed to go there.

"I think it's vice versa, too," he said, referring to Mexican tourists and shoppers avoiding the U.S. unless they really need to come.

While some downtown merchants might grumble, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service agents are working as hard as they can to move people through the border according to Port Director Michael Freeman..

He said all pedestrian lanes have been opened and all vehicular lanes are open.

On Monday he released some statistics.

According to Freeman, 140,591 people crossed the border on foot in the week preceding the attacks.

He acknowledged there was a 20 percent dip in the number of pedestrians the first week after the attacks but said the numbers have rebounded.

Last week traffic increased 3.5 percent to 145,741, he said.

Meanwhile, vehicular traffic is up 2.1 percent when the increase at the Calexico East Port of Entry is factored in.

Traffic at the downtown port is down 14.1 percent since the attack, he said.

Freeman said his office door is open to any merchant or businessperson who wants to talk about ways to make things better.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

Imperial Valley Press Online Articles