Thursday, November 01, 2007

Attack of the Clones

Day 'o the Dead is just around the corner - tomorrow, actually. We made sure to leave all our dead behind when we moved here, so we really have nothing to do except wanter around town, check out the altars, and ponder the amazing lack of business savvy displayed by most Mexican entrepreneurs.

According to our ever-reliable newspaper, 376 temporary vending permits have been issued to people who want to sell Day of the Dead stuff. All well and good, cashing in on a holiday - very capitalist. Almost American, really. The Mexican twist on it is that virtually all 376 of these vendors have set up shop within 200 yards of each other, crammed together side-by-side. Furthermore, it's no exaggeration to say they're all selling the exact same things. There are skulls made of chocolate and skills made of sugar, all made in a mold and apparently everyone buys the same mold. There are little skeletons and medium skeletons and large skeletons, and if they're not all made by the same person, they're made by people who all learned from the same person. Everyone has the same traditional offerings for sale, the same masks, the same toys. They all charge the same amount - yet there are hundreds of (identical) stalls to choose from. Mexico manages somehow to combine the abundance of American capitalism with the variety of a Soviet-era supermarket.

This is by no means limited to Day of the Dead. A couple blocks away, there are about 150 food stalls being set up - as happens with every holiday, major or minor. An endless, narrow passageway of vendos pushing the same gorditas, the same enchiladas, the same guajalotes and tacos as everyone else, with no variation in price, quality or preparation. Why one would patronize one stall over another is a complete mystery to me.

It's like this all over town, in every sector you can think of. It was impossible to take a picture because of the geography of the park, but there are nine other balloon vendors just like this one in a park about one acre in size. Two streets away, a dozen stores sell the same collection of wedding dresses and quinceañera gowns, with four or five identical shoe stores breaking up the monotony. I didn't even walk past the business school when I was in college, but even I know that starting a business indistinguishable in every way from every other business within a 100 yard radius is not something that's likely to earn you a visit from Warren Buffet. I swear, your average Mexican businessman would look at an empty retail space between two bookstores and say, "You know what would really work here? A bookstore!"

And yet this is one of the most prosperous cities in Mexico. Once again, I am baffled.

Update: As long as I'm ranting... I think I'm on record as not being a very big fan of Mexican baked goods. They tend to be dry, flavorless - even fresh, they taste a bit stale. But for Day of the Dead they make this special bread call pan de muertos and it is friggin' terrific! Moist, fluffy, egg-y, it's like challah bread sprinkled with sugar. So - of course! - it's only available three days out of the entire year, and really you're not supposed to even eat it, you just leave it out for dead people. Unbelievable.


radosh said...

Well Oberlin didn't even have a business school so I can't formulate the proper Google search to prove this, but I'm pretty sure there's a well-known economic theory explaining why stores selling the same goods congregate in one location. That's why cities have "diamond districts," or why all the bridal stores are in the same part of town, etc.

Wait, here's a start: "These communities also benefit from an expanded trade area as their specialization often draws customers from more distant communities. Once a niche is established, other businesses are often attracted to the community as they are interested in selling to the same targeted consumer segments."

Burro Hall said...

True, people do drive in from miles around to buy balloons in the Jardin Zenia, but at the end of the day, when I see a dozen balloon guys struggling to get into VW Beetles with a couple hundred unsold balloons sticking out the sunroof. I can't help but wonder if business would be better if some of them relocated to the one of the 20 other parks in the city.

There are probably a couple dozen clothing boutiques along Smith St. in Brooklyn, but they all sell different stuff. In Mexico, there'd be ten Gaps side by side by side.

'Eddie Willers' said...

Hammer - nail - head

I blogged just the other week about the appalling lack of business savvy showed by the Mexican 'entrepreneurs' here in my hometown of Tampico.

Read and weep. This country could be great (and still could be) if the folk with the drive to set up on their own would get with the program, stop thinking the streets of 'el otro lado' are paved with gold, and learn what it takes to drive a business beyond subsistence.

Burro Hall said...

One of my favorite stories about Mexico comes from a friend of mine, who needed some fireworks for a party she was having. She found some guy in town selling a very limited inventory, but it was good enough for her needs, so she asked to buy the whole lot - everything he had.

"But Senora," he said, "if you buy all my fireworks, I won't have anything left to sell." And with that, he refused her offer.

Jorge Arturo said...

You are supposedly to eat the bread, with hot cocoa, it is great!

I agree with you, such a good bread, only three days... not fair.

Also the stalls in the day of the dead, is a mystery to me too, and I'm mexican and living in Mexico.

Diana said...

el pan de muertos esta hecho para que nos lo comamos los vivos, los muertos no comen pan de muerto wey!.