This week is Semana Santa (Holy Week), and it's a big week in Mexico - schools cancel classes and businesses take a holiday. It is also a big week for retailers in the Southwest United States because Mexican shoppers cross the border in droves.
For San Antonio it’s one of the biggest weeks of the year for retail sales, and retailers have high hopes for this year’s Semana Santa spending spree because of a powerful peso.
Music pulsates at San Antonio’s Shops at La Cantera, a high end shopping mall. The cash registers are also pulsating as shoppers from Mexico are here looking for deals and quality merchandise.
Aldolfo Muzquiz is from the state of Coahuila. He and his family make several trips a year here, but holy week is a special time to leave Mexico.
"You basically shut down all the commerce and all the work there so the people have the chance to go to the states and do their shopping as well as relax during vacation," Muzquiz said.
Muzquiz added that he and his family feel safer shopping in the U.S. with the on-going violence in his country. Even with a stronger peso, Maria Ortiz from Guadalajara said she has more buying power here.
"In Mexico everything is expensive. Everything... Here? No. There sales are very good for us."
The Mexican Peso is enjoying a two-year high in comparison to the dollar, and it’s continuing to trend up as there’s optimism that economic reforms in Mexico will spur greater growth.
This is good news for San Antonio merchants like Humberto Fuentes who cater to Mexican shoppers. Fuentes is an assistant manager at a Clark’s, which sells shoes and purses. He said that during holy week, Mexican nationals boost sales about 60 percent.
"I think it’s an extra push. It doesn’t make us or break us but it definitely helps us with achieving our budgets our goals for the end of the year," Fuentes said.
Holy week isn’t the only Mexican boost Texas gets as Christmas and the month of July are also high spending times for visitors. Ramiro Cavazos with San Antonio’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said the owner of two of the city’s affluent shopping malls, which includes La Cantera, reports that patrons from Mexico make up 50 percent to 60 percent of the shopping clientele during these time periods.
Cavazos claims that many flock to Texas because of its friendly climate:
"I think they’re coming here because they feel welcome," he said.
Where some metropolitan areas across the Southwest are not bilingual and do not have strong cultural connections to Mexico, Cavazos said San Antonio meets both criteria.
"The economic impact here as whole is clear. In a 3-year study of 20 Texas counties, the credit card company VISA monitored the spending habits of Mexican Nationals. There was a 66 percent increase in spending from March to April last year. In dollars, that’s a jump from $168 million to $279 million."
Steve Niven is an economist with the SABÉR Institute, a project created by the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and St. Mary’s University that studies regional economies. Nivin said boosts like this are something you would not see in other parts of the country.
"If you’re the metropolitan economy of Kansas City you’re probably not going to see these kinds of impacts. It’s a nice little edition to our economy that provides more diversification in our economy … and helps provide a little stability as well," Nivin said.
This kind of economic impact is unique to the southern border, and as Mexico’s economy continues trand upward with a growing middle class, Holy Week spending could continue to increase.