San Luis Businesses Benefit From Both Sides of Border

Sep 19, 2018

Panchita's restaurant and bakery in San Luis, Ariz. is a family-owned business that has been serving hot breakfast and champurrado, Mexican hot chocolate, for a quarter century. They are open from 2 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Manager Georgina Escamilla says business is slow right now. But she expects that to change pretty soon.

"Panchita's has been here about 25 years serving the community," Escamilla said. "From about April to September every year it's slow but business has been picking up lately because schools are open now and it picks up as the agricultural season goes along."

"Sixty percent of our revenue comes from Mexican shoppers." - Jenny Torres, Economic Development Manager, City of San Luis

The upcoming ag season, which lasts from October to May, is big for restaurants like Panchita's Escamilla says she'll hire more employees and extend her hours to be ready for the tens of thousands of farmworkers that will soon cross the U.S.-Mexico border each night for work. During the busiest time of the ag season, the line at Panchita's is out the door, she said. Panchita's also runs a food truck during the winter months.

San Luis counts on cross-border travel all year for its economic health.

"Sixty percent of our revenue comes from Mexican shoppers," said Jenny Torres, the economic development manager for San Luis. "It's very essential to make it easier on the Mexican shoppers to come in."

Near the border checkpoint that ends on the town's Main Street, a handful of shoppers, some carrying umbrellas for the sun, are either returning home to Mexico after shopping in U.S. stores or making a quick trip into Mexico.

Giovani Rangel, from San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico, was carrying three shopping bags from stores on the Arizona side recently.

"(I shop on the Arizona side) because there is more of a selection of clothes and there are better prices (than in Mexico)," Rangel said. "(I cross the border) every day pretty much."

Shoppers like Rangel contribute to the city's sales tax revenue. Torres, the San Luis economic development manager, says the shoppers are good for the entire region.

"The people coming across the border impacts the whole region, not just San Luis," she said.

This is evident in the number of vehicles with license plates from the Mexican state of Sonora seen at larger shopping areas in Yuma.

"People come here to work, not to make trouble. They may be coming from Mexico or California but they come here to make a living." - Georgina Escamilla, manager, Panchita's Restaurant and Panaderia (Bakery)

To help San Luis businesses take advantage of international shoppers, the city operates an incubator to help new businesses establish themselves.

Gene Swenson owns DNK Plumbing Supply, one of five current tenants in the incubator. Swenson said he is the only wholesaler for plumbing supplies in San Luis, sllowing him to serve the border area.

"We thought it would be a good opportunity for us to open in San Luis," Swenson said. "The town is growing."

"I think we may see other wholesalers coming in. They're going to see, if we're here and doing well, the opportunity's here for them also," he said. "All the wire, all the conduit, everything electrical is coming in from Yuma and the City of San Luis is losing that tax base. And that could really help San Luis with roads, parks and things like that."

The other businesses in the incubator are a tire dealer/repair shop, a medical equipment company, a construction company and a sign advertising company, There are currently two vacant spaces available, said Rogelio Martinez, an office assistant at the incubator.

As politicians around the country ramp up the rhetoric around border security and safety, Panchita's Restaurant manager Georgina Escamilla says that doesn't concern her.

"People come here to work, not to make trouble," Escamilla said. "They may be coming from Mexico or California but they come here to make a living."