Street vendor walking on Colon

It’s nearly a century since pushcarts plied the streets of most American neighborhoods; sidewalk vendors of nearly every stripe went out of style when the nation traded Main Streets for malls.

Fresh watermelons on the Carretera

In Mexico street merchants are alive and well.  It seems as if wherever in Mexico three or more people are gathered a fourth will show up with something to sell them. Retail here is up close and personal and the store often comes to you.

Ajijic’s street merchants are not the annoying chachki vendors of the coastal resort beaches, but a retail subculture that’s baked into Ajijic’s endearing DNA.

Nuts & snacks on the Plaza

More people gathered attracts more sellers, and in Ajijic the Plaza and the Carretera rarely lack for either.

Baskets & brooms on the Carretera

The variety of merchandise and services offered by these “no-store stores” often surprises.

Freshly-squeezed juices on the Plaza

Food vendors sell everything from frozen treats and freshly-squeezed beverages to prepared foods (taco stands warrant a blog post all their own!), home goods, and flowers.

Chicharrón in the making

Shoe shine on the Plaza

Street merchants will also dupe your keys, shine your shoes, sharpen your knives and wash your car in less time than it takes to find a parking spot at your average Stateside Safeway.

Basket vendor on the Plaza

Walkabout vendors are the salt of the street merchants.

They carry their entire inventory on their backs, often walking miles every day.

CD & DVD bike cart on the Plaza

Some merchandise, though, begs to be wheeled through the crowd, and the conveyances are nothing if not inventive.

Other merchandise better lends itself to hanging from trees and fences each day to be carted off at day’s end and re-hung each morning.

A very few even sell from roadside kiosks not much larger than a phone booth.

Most of the street merchants not walking or wheeling about are parked so routinely in the same spots at their appointed times that people sometimes use them as directional landmarks.

Coffee vendor/grinder on the Carretera

Among them will appear for a day or a week spontaneous street capitalists who vanish as suddenly as they appeared.

On the Plaza curb in front of BBVA

Many of these sidewalk merchants start each day very early by walking, bicycling, or riding the bus to Ajijic from homes in nearby villages.

Ice cream vendor stocks up

Others stock push carts or buy fresh products at a wholesale market before the selling day begins.

There are no bar codes or credit cards here.

There are no frequent shopper programs, blue light specials, or rebates.

There’s just cash and carry from a sole proprietor who does one thing only and strives to do it better than anyone else.

There are also plenty of merchants who are as well known to their customers as the customers are to them, and there’s no small amount of loyalty between many buyers and sellers.

Curbside empanadas on the Plaza next to BBVA

It’s a relationship long gone in America’s retail landscape, but for those who can take it in stride it can be a richly rewarding trade-off for America’s impersonal, one-stop, “big box” shopping experience.

See my related post “American Values