EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Gustavo Tavera says he feels happy and blessed to see traffic picking up at his South El Paso clothing store.

COVID-19-related international travel restrictions took away most customers from shops within walking distance to Mexico for more than a year. Most of those stores had to lay off workers or close for good and survived on local traffic. But with the pandemic mostly under control and fully vaccinated Mexicans now allowed to cross, border commerce is making a comeback.

“I can tell you that I see a lot of cars with license plates from Mexico on the street, on shopping centers, on restaurants. I really think there is a lot more movement now than there was two years ago. My business is doing better now than it was two years ago,” said Tavera, who owns Tee Shop on El Paso Street.

Data from the City of El Paso’s International Bridges Department shows northbound pedestrian and private vehicle crossings have increased substantially from mid-2020 lows but remain below turn-of-the-century record highs. The same holds true for cars and people going south to Mexico.

“It’s my understanding the number of individuals coming back over the border and shopping again is starting to return to normal,” El Paso Chamber CEO Andrea Hutchins told Border Report last week. “It’s not pre-pandemic, however, across the county we are seeing an increase in sales taxes and we’re seeing an increase in tax revenues overall and I think that’s a direct correlation between some of the increased border activity that we are seeing.”

Northbound pedestrian traffic in El Paso (courtesy City of El Paso)

Maria Reta, a Denver, Colorado, resident who has family in Juarez, said the pandemic changed people’s shopping habits. Also, many Mexican residents who held B1/B2 border crossing cards or “laser visas” saw them expire.

“Their visas are no longer valid, they cannot cross over here, and they have not renewed them,” Reta said, adding that some Mexican residents no longer go out as much as before because of fear of catching COVID-19.

Northbound passenger vehicle crossings in El Paso (City of El Paso)
Josefina Rodriguez

Josefina Rodriguez, a resident of Chihuahua City, said Tuesday was the first time in three years she has crossed into the U.S. She made the trip alone because her husband, who is elderly, fears getting sick.

“If I see something that I like, I buy it. Clothes are of better quality here. They tell us (in Mexico) that we shouldn’t spend our money over here, that I should shop there. I shop on both sides, (I shop) quality,” she said.

Rebeca Lopez, of Juarez, said she shops in El Paso often to stock up her home-based business. She makes at least a couple of trips a week so as to not exceed Mexican customs limits on importing merchandise from the U.S. “I buy clothing, lingerie, cosmetics, and some jewelry for my store. Juarez has few wholesale stores,” she said.

Tavera said shoppers from the interior or Mexico are usually the ones that spend the most in El Paso.

Gustavo Tavera, owner of The Tee Shop in South El Paso Street. (Border Report photo)

“People from Chihuahua, they make a trip once a month and they really do a lot of shopping: video games, jeans, you name it. You can see the outlets full of people from over there,” he said. “As for people from Juarez, I see the bridge full every morning, I see the bus station full every morning.”

Other merchants who spoke with Border Report off camera said they do see many people coming over from Juarez that just keep walking past their stores. “So maybe they go to other shopping centers, to Target or Walmart,” Tavera said.