SAN MARCOS, Texas -- Texas retailers are getting an early Christmas
gift this year from their southern neighbor: swarms of eager Mexican
A recent sales tax hike in Mexico's northern region has been sending
Mexican citizens north of the border - in cars, planes and tour buses -
for their Christmas shopping. The shoppers - looking to save money and
score on the latest brand names of TVs, toys and clothing - are arriving
by the busload from as far away as Mexico City and Jalisco to outlet
centers and malls across Texas, said Pete Garcia, executive director of
the South Texas chapter of the United States-Mexico Chamber of Commerce.
"It will be a huge benefit for all of South Texas, from the border of
El Paso to McAllen all the way up to San Antonio, San Marcos and
Houston," he said. "You're going to see a significant jump in those
Mexican lawmakers in October raised the sales tax in the country's
northern region from 11% to 16% - or twice the rate in most Texas
municipalities, said Tom Fullerton, professor of economics and finance
at the University of Texas-El Paso. Mexico's northern region had enjoyed
a lower rate for decades to compete with U.S. retailers across the
border, but the tax was raised to equal the rest of the country as part
of nationwide tax reforms, he said. Texas' statewide sales tax is 6.25%,
but municipalities can raise that another 2 percentage points.
Mexican residents typically account for around $4.5 billion in retail
sales in Texas counties along the Mexican border, Fullerton said. That
number is expected to jump by $225 million due to the new tax hike, with
retailers as far inland as Houston and San Antonio reaping the
benefits, he said.
Even though the tax increase doesn't go into effect until January,
the bad publicity the measure received in Mexico is driving shoppers
across the border early for their Christmas shopping, Fullerton said.
"This was a very controversial bill in Mexico," he said. "There will
be a lot of customers who will be shopping across the border even before
the actual tax occurs."
At the Tanger Outlets in San Marcos on Saturday, white passenger
buses with Mexican plates pulled up to the curb and dislodged clusters
of Spanish-speaking passengers who headed straight to Old Navy, Calvin
Klein, Banana Republic and other stores. The parking lot resembled a lot
in Guadalajara or Monterrey, crowded with cars with license plates from
Coahula, Nuevo Leon, Jalisco, Tamaulipas and Ciudad Mexico.
Ernesto Rangel, 45, drove the 14 hours from Mexico City to San Marcos
to get the latest models in electronics and clothing, do some Christmas
shopping - and avoid the higher sales tax.
"It's cheaper, and we find things you can't find in Mexico," he said
as he positioned a new Phillips surround sound system in the trunk of
his car. "I can do all my Christmas shopping here."
Mexican residents make up such a significant part of the outlet
center's sales that management recently printed off promotional posters
and brochures in Spanish and plastered them around the sprawling center,
said John Lairsen, the outlet center's general manager. "I'll assume
we'll continue to see that increase" with the new tax hike, he said.
Outside, one of the large white passenger vans contained the family
of Carlos Gomez, 54, of Jalisco, Mexico. Gomez was leading his extended
family - 28 people from five families - on a shopping and sightseeing
tour that included stops in San Antonio, Houston and San Marcos. The
caravan drove from Jalisco, past the malls in northern Mexico and
straight to the outlet center in San Marcos, where they hoped to stock
up on designer clothes, electronic toys and TVs.
Having so many shops in one place makes it worth the trip, he said.
"We do it for the convenience and for the sales," Gomez said. "Plus, we make a vacation out of it."
(Copyright 2013 by USA Today. All Rights Reserved. This material
may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)