Mex­i­cans no longer flock to San Mar­cos

Some cite a weak­ened peso, but oth­ers blame Trump’s words, poli­cies.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Tay­lor Gold­en­stein tgold­en­stein@states­man.com

For years, the SAN MAR­COS — out­let malls in San Mar­cos have bus­tled with Mex­i­can tourists look­ing for deals. Mex­i­can li­cense plates dot­ted the park­ing lot, and it was com­mon to see peo­ple pil­ing out of tour buses to do their shop­ping.

“I haven’t seen a bus in a while,” said Bradley Tanksley, store man­ager of New York, New York, after hang­ing a long gown on a rack above his head on a re­cent week­day. “We’ve had a lot more peo­ple from around here and the states, the closer states, but not a lot from Mex­ico.”

And hardly any Mex­i­can li­cense plates were to be seen in the lot just out­side the store’s win­dow.

San Mar­cos of­fi­cials say sales tax rev­enue from Fe­bru­ary, based on Jan­uary sales, was down about 9 per­cent, or $200,697, com­pared with the same month last year. They be­lieve, at least in part, that the de­crease is a re­sult of fewer for­eign trav­el­ers, par­tic­u­larly those from Mex­ico, mak­ing the city their shop­ping des­ti­na­tion.

This marks the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive de­crease after Jan­uary rev­enues saw a drop of more than 3 per­cent. Re­tail sales took a hit of al­most 10 per­cent in Jan­uary but were par­tially off­set by a 9 per­cent in­crease in ac­com­mo­da­tion and food sales and a 36 per-

cent in­crease in whole­sale.

Of­fi­cials are await­ing sim­i­larly de­tailed fig­ures for Jan­uary but sus­pect re­tail is again the driver. The city’s fi­nance di­rec­tor, Heather Hurl­bert, added that this year’s num­bers might also ap­pear lower be­cause of the boost in tax col­lec­tions ex­pe­ri­enced after the con­struc­tion of the Ama­zon dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ter last year.

Re­becca Ybarra-Ramirez, di­rec­tor of the city’s Con­ven­tion and Visi­tor Bu­reau, said the re­cent de­cline in shop­pers from Mex­ico is likely be­cause of the weak­ened value of the peso com­pared with the dol­lar. The peso hit an all-time low against the dol­lar in Jan­uary, but it has been slowly re­cov­er­ing. As of last week, one peso was worth barely more than a nickel.

The de­pre­ci­a­tion came amid Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s in­creased im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment, talk of a bor­der wall and threats to oblit­er­ate the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment.

Still, Ybarra-Ramirez said she isn’t overly con­cerned about the de­crease, say­ing San Mar­cos reg­u­larly “see(s) our ups and downs.” Hurl­bert said her of­fice will be “care­fully mon­i­tor­ing” sales tax rev­enue in com­ing months.

“I don’t want to be flip­pant about it,” Hurl­bert said. “It is not a cause for great con­cern, but we are con­cerned and be­ing dili­gent about and keep­ing an eye on it, and we’re able to mod­ify our spend­ing if we need to.”

Mex­i­can shop­pers have long been a sta­ple for Tanger Out­lets and the San Mar­cos Pre­mium Out­lets.

A study led by Texas State Univer­sity re­searchers in San Mar­cos showed that hol­i­day shop­pers from Mex­ico vis­it­ing out­let stores in late 2008 spent roughly twice as much as their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts.

Rox­anne Anis, as­sis­tant store man­ager at GoldToe at Tanger, said she’s no­ticed fewer Mex­i­cans com­ing through the sock shop in re­cent months. Anis said those who do come tell her that fi­nan­cially, it doesn’t make sense for many peo­ple.

“A lot of our traf­fic is very heav­ily based on the peo­ple from Mex­ico, and they’re just not com­ing over,” Anis said.

“The dol­lar-to-peso ex­change is very high, so there’s no point in com­ing be­cause they pay the same in Mex­ico that they come here and pay.”

One draw for in­ter­na­tional shop­pers is the sales tax re­fund of­fered by the state. Carolyn Petty, pres­i­dent of TaxFree Shop­ping Lim­ited, which has a kiosk at Tanger Out­lets, said she and other col­leagues in tourism-re­lated com­pa­nies have been trav­el­ing to Mex­ico even more of­ten lately to try to drum up in­ter­est in shop­ping-fu­eled tourism and to ease trav­el­ers’ re­luc­tance.

“I have just read re­ports of peo­ple on the bor­der say­ing, ‘Don’t go shop in Texas. Buy Mex­i­can prod­ucts,’ ” Petty said. “And we’re say­ing, ‘No, we love you!’ ”

The dip in sales tax rev­enue made sense to many shop­pers at Tanger on a re­cent week­day. Car­ry­ing a bag with a new stuffed an­i­mal for his child from the Dis­ney Store, Garvin Bis­cette, 40, said he had no doubt that the slow­down in in­ter­na­tional travel is a re­ac­tion to Trump’s po­lit­i­cal rhetoric and ac­tions on im­mi­gra­tion.

“I think that a lot of peo­ple will avoid Amer­ica be­cause of his poli­cies,” said Bis­cette, who is orig­i­nally from the Caribbean but lives in Austin now. “And that’s go­ing to hurt the econ­omy.”

Ger­ardo Vil­lareal, 66, came with his fam­ily to Tanger from Austin on a re­cent week­day, his young chil­dren swirling around him, one of them dressed in a black Mex­ico na­tional team soc­cer jersey.

Vil­lareal, who is orig­i­nally from Mex­ico, said fam­ily mem­bers and oth­ers he knows who still live in Mex­ico are of­fended by Trump’s changes to im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies and en­force­ment.

“Peo­ple don’t want to spend money like be­fore,” Vil­lareal said.

‘I have just read re­ports of peo­ple on the bor­der say­ing, “Don’t go shop in Texas. Buy Mex­i­can prod­ucts.” And we’re say­ing, “No, we love you!” ’ Carolyn Petty Pres­i­dent of TaxFree Shop­ping Lim­ited, which has a kiosk at Tanger Out­lets in San Mar­cos

RALPH BAR­RERA / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Shop­pers pass by as Sil­via Mas­corro (right) cleans a dis­play win­dow of the shop Pa­paya, a women’s cloth­ing store lo­cated in the San Mar­cos Pre­mium Out­lets, on Wed­nes­day after­noon. San Mar­cos city of­fi­cials say that re­cent de­creases in sales tax rev­enue are a re­sult of fewer for­eign trav­el­ers, par­tic­u­larly those from Mex­ico, mak­ing the city their shop­ping des­ti­na­tion.

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