The school year is approaching with the Texas’ sales tax holiday this weekend to help draw in shoppers.
In the aftermath of the recent mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart, it’s likely retail sales will be affected in the border city.
The Fountains at Farah Mall is not far from the Walmart where the shooting took place. There weren’t many shoppers there Friday morning besides Lisa Vasquez, who was with her son. She said she wasn’t concerned about a repeat attack.
“I don’t think that would happen again,” said Vasquez. “I don’t think that would happen with people here from El Paso, so I’m not worried about that.”
On the west side of the city, the Outlet Shoppes at El Paso Mall saw light business, too. Bridget Sheets was shopping with her children and also sounded assured.
“I think law enforcement does a really good job. El Paso’s always been a safe place,” said Sheets. “Things happen, and it just so happened that circumstance happened here in El Paso.”
There are typically a lot of cars with Mexican license plates it the Outlet Shoppes. But not Friday. Tom Fullerton of the University of Texas at El Paso said he believes the shooting is to blame.
“It is probably going to affect the willingness of people to cross the river from Ciudad Juarez into El Paso,” he said.
Fullerton is an expert on the economy of the border region, and said El Paso’s economy is intertwined with that of its twin — Ciudad Juarez — across the Rio Grande.
“In any given year anywhere between 8 and 14% of total retail sales go to residents from Northern Mexico,” said Fullerton.
He added most residents of El Paso, those not directly affected by the massacre, will likely to go on with their back-to-school shopping as normal. Most will go out to brick-and-mortar stores rather than buying online from the safety of their homes. But for shoppers from across the border, it’s another story.
“The traffic that would normally materialize from Ciudad Juarez is probably going to be reduced,” he said. “(They’re) going to remain at home and purchase the items they would (normally) purchase here in El Paso from shopping centers in Ciudad Juarez.”
Even at this early date, Fullerton can put an estimate on just how much the massacre is likely to cost El Paso in retail losses: $11 million.
How did he arrive at that number? There’s historical data for the border region that provides a simple, brutal equation.
“Several years back, unfortunately, Ciudad Juarez was going through a period of heightened narcotics-related violence and narcotics-related homicides,” said Fullerton. “And back in those days, for every additional two homicides there was a loss of about $1 million in retail activity.”
According to that math, 22 homicides equals $11 million. At the height of Juarez’s narco-violence, cross-border shoppers flocked to the safety of El Paso. Now, it’s El Paso that looks more dangerous to Mexicans.
“This is likely to be a temporary change in customer visitation patterns from Northern Mexico into El Paso,” he said. “The overall effect will probably subside somewhere during the first or second quarter of 2020.”
El Paso’s economy as a whole should be able to absorb the hit, Fullerton believes. But it’ll be a hard blow for retailers, who typically depend on back-to-school and holiday shopping for their strongest sales.
If that weren’t enough, long lines at the border entry point and the weakness of the peso against the dollar have gone further to discourage cross-border shoppers. It’s a bitter pill for a city that has long been regarded as one of the safest in the United States.