EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Downtown El Paso merchants have weathered the COVID-19 pandemic on the strength of locals and New Mexico residents filling some of the void left by Mexican shoppers for more than a year.
But sales are still down and there is no word when the U.S. and Mexico will roll back non-essential travel restrictions that cost them 80% of their customer base.
“Every day that goes by it’s even more challenging. It’s not only significant loss of sales but there’s also uncertainty, not knowing when the (international) bridges are going to open. When you run a business, the last thing you want is uncertainty,” said Joe Gudenrath, executive director of the Downtown Management District.
But there are glimmers of hope on the horizon. Local officials on both sides of the border are lobbying their federal governments for a prompt end to the restrictions now that large swaths of the population have been vaccinated against COVID-19. And, in the case of El Paso, many locals appear to be getting excited about their Downtown again.
El Paso Street is known for its discount clothing, jewelry, shoes and electronic retailers. Many shops there and on nearby Stanton, Oregon and Mesa streets never reopened since the restrictions went into effect.
“If you ask me today how things are compared to 2020 it’s a lot better from where we were but still significantly less from where we should be under normal conditions,” Gudenrath said. “What we’ve seen since the drop off of the Mexican shopper is more locals come to Downtown to take advantage of the retail environment here. As an organization, we try to help support that activity by promoting our Downtown retail to El Pasoans and encouraging them to come shop.”
On that note, the Downtown Management District is planning a “Fiesta de las Luces” open-house party on July 31 and Aug. 1 to encourage more locals to come.
“It’s a great opportunity to reconnect with Downtown. We will be hosting the Fiesta de las Luces event for the first time on El Paso Street to welcome the community to this area,” Gudenrath said. “We’re going to have vendors on the street, food trucks, music, activities and entertainment to introduce (locals) to our Downtown retailers.”