Weak peso hurts border businesses in Arizona

The weak peso-dollar exchange rate has led to a sharp decline in sales for retailers on the border. (Photo by Fan Wang/Cronkite News)

NOGALES, Arizona – Rebeca Castañeda stood behind a counter eagerly watching the doorway at Chi’s store just blocks from the border. It was almost noon and shoppers were scarce.

“With the peso devaluation, our sales are going down more and more,” said Castañeda, worried.

The peso dollar exchange rate continues to hover around 16 pesos to one dollar.

Mexico’s currency has lost about 24 percent of its value in past year, and that hurts the buying power of Mexican nationals who cross the border to shop.

“You can wait for like five or six hours, and there’s not one single customer coming in,” said Castañeda.

Castañeda has been working at Chi’s store for 20 years and says this is one of the worst economic slumps.

“Compared with the beginning of the year, sales have fallen by more than half.”

At Chi’s, 99 percent of the customers are from Mexico.

All the stores on Morley Avenue depend heavily on shoppers from Mexico and proximity to the border crossing usually is a big plus.

But on one recent afternoon, Sergio Aguayo, 54, a native of Nogales, Mexico was one of the few browsing in shops buying anything.

“I now spend 20 dollars every time I come here,” said Aguayo. “But I used to spend $80 to $100 before.”

Aguayo would cross the border twice a week to shop for a variety of items that are less expensive on the U.S. side including clothing, shoes and some grocery items. On this day he bought a few cheap trinkets for his kids.

Many stores are offering deep discounts to lure Mexican shoppers back.

“We always have sales, and sometimes we’ll do sales and we’ll accept pesos at a much better rate,” said Debbie Bracker Senday, managing partner of Bracker’s Department store.

“When the economy in Mexico is bad, we feel it,” said Bracker.

Aguayo hopes to have more cash in wallet in December when he and other employees in Mexico get an “Aguinaldo,” a mandatory year-end bonus.

“I have to wait for my Christmas bonus. There’s nothing else I can do,” said Aguayo.