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As Aid Promised to Mexico, Border Store Owner Wonders Who’ll Bail Him Out

February 1, 1995

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ Used-clothing merchant Johnny Tijerina has watched his sales drop nearly 80 percent with Mexico’s peso devaluation.

He doesn’t mind that Washington will bail out the faltering Mexican economy. But he wonders: Who will bail him out?

``We need it,″ he said. ``I may have to shut down next week.″

Bypassing a reluctant Congress, President Clinton pledged $20 billion Tuesday in direct U.S. loans and loan guarantees to Mexico and announced that two international lending organizations will increase their credits to $27.8 billion.

Like hundreds of retailers on the U.S. side of the 2,000-mile border, Tijerina has lost sales to Mexican shoppers, whose weakened currency suddenly makes it harder for them to buy U.S. goods.

``The peso just ruined the business on this side,″ Tijerina said. ``The United States wants to support Mexico, but what’s it doing for the small businesses over here?

``We’re having trouble getting loans. We’re just barely hanging on. We don’t know if we’re going to make it through this.″

Tijerina opened the ``La Chiquita″ store in downtown Brownsville six years ago. In good times he’s made decent profits selling used clothing to Mexicans, who often resell them in Mexico City and other interior markets.

But the sign of the property’s former tenant, a defunct Panasonic dealer, still hangs in front of La Chiquita _ a reminder that it’s risky to rely on the Mexican economy.

Tijerina doesn’t need any reminders. He said a handful of banks have recently refused to loan him money because of the uncertain purchasing power of his Mexican customers.

Bill Summers, president of Rio Grande Valley Chamber of Commerce, said regional retail sales more than doubled from $2.4 billion to $5.1 billion between 1983 and 1993 _ and Mexicans were responsible for up to 40 percent of the totals.

``In the next five years, we would have doubled again, I would think,″ Summers said. But now, he said, the peso devaluation threatens to prompt layoffs at retail stores in the southern tip of Texas.

Hank Tintos, a city councilman and general manager of a retail chain in Nogales, Ariz., estimated that Mexicans account for nearly 90 percent of retail sales in the Arizona border city of 20,000 people.

Since the peso began a more than 40 percent slide against the dollar Dec. 20, business volume has dropped by 60 percent in Nogales, Tintos said.

He praised Clinton’s efforts to avert financial and political chaos in Mexico.

``It is good that action has been taken,″ Tintos said, ``because we can’t let the hemorrhaging continue further.″

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