When we moved to Tulum, there was only one grocery store and it only sold food. There were absolutely
no “home” stores. So, to buy anything for the house, and I mean anything (a carrot peeler, can opener, bath mat), required a trip to Playa Del Carmen for a complete day of driving and searching since there were no “big box stores”. The usual trip required six different stores for the most simple, mundane shopping list . This is still true in a lot of areas of Mexico today.
Unless you are moving to one of the larger “developed” urban areas, like Cancun, Merida, Cuernavaca or Mexico City, the likelihood of finding everything you need in one store, or even one shopping center, is very low. “Treasure hunting” (for you will surely feel like you’ve found “treasure” when you finally come across those elusive items) for goods in Mexico is simply the way it is. In fact, one of the biggest adjustment “humps” is going from a fully-stocked house to beginning over again. Going from having whatever you need at your fingertips to scrounging for something to drink your morning coffee from. One way to avoid the problem is to ship all your belongings to your new home. But, that’s a discussion for another article, and for this one, we’re going to pretend that you arrived with one set of king-sized sheets, two bath towels, your laptop and a wireless printer.
By North of the Border (NoB) standards, Mexican retailing logic is totally mystifying. An example: one store has screws, but no screw drivers; however, while the next store sells screwdrivers, they have flat head screw drivers only. Finally, at a third store, you find the Phillips screwdriver that you need for the screws that you picked up at store #1. However, that store is closed for lunch, so you now have to kill two hours somewhere else looking for a carrot peeler, and return after siesta time, to purchase the Phillips screwdriver.
Even if you’re lucky enough to have a “big box” store around, the merchandising plan is equally as illogical. On aisle three, just below the mustard are the boxes of saltines, however the soup crackers are two aisles over on “five” on the top shelf. Gringos spend a lot of time asking other gringos if they, “know where the tartar sauce is.” It is usually the fastest way to find stuff. And, do NOT count on something being in the same place the next time you look for it. In the last six months, at the Walmart subsidiary where I shop, they have moved the bottled milk four times – from one side of the store to the other and back again. At least, it’s down to only two places!!
Beds and bed linens are a complete anathema to the Mexican culture, as are “standard sizes,” except in the loosest sense. You can literally purchase two sheet sets off the same shelf, in the same store, by the same manufacturer and designated by the packaging to be the same size. When you open the package to use them, one set will be an inch too wide, the other too short to tuck under the mattress, and the top hems will be two different depths. This is truly astonishing (and annoying) to someone used to a queen sheet being the same size, no matter the manufacturer, the store source, or the price paid. So, prepare yourself to either: 1) do without good quality, high tread-count sheets, or 2) to allot enough of the precious luggage allowance to bringing a couple of sets with you.
A word of caution if you are bringing your NoB furniture to Mexico with you, be prepared for sheets that will not fit your mattress. Mexican sheets do not fit Mexican mattresses, and the thicker-walled, firmer NoB mattresses are simply too much for them. If you are planning on bringing your bed frame and buying your mattress here, know beforehand that the Mexican mattresses are not going to quite fit the NoB frames.
So bedding takes some forethought and planning – but, foremost in your mind should be that mixing manufacturing cultures in your bedroom is not a good idea – whether it be mattress and linens, bed frame and mattress, or any combination thereof!
Other items that have proven elusive:
1. A tea kettle
2. Lamps – It costs a fortune to import them and because Mexicans just don’t use lamps, retailers have a very, very limited supply to choose from. The ones they have are cheap-looking and plain to the point of being homely. Or, maybe Mexicans don’t use lamps because they cost so much. I dunno – which came first . . .
3. A robust coffee maker.
4. Bath linens. The best high-end Mexican bath towels compare at only slightly below the lowest quality American towels. It’s like toweling off with a paper towel that’s molting. Maybe that’s why the laundries pour on the softener.
5. Quality cooking pots and pans – in fact, outside of the most commonplace – spoons, pancake flippers and spatulas – good kitchen utensils are downright hard to find. You will have to go “treasure hunting” for a whisk or a wooden spoon set, forget a quality knife set and good luck finding a knife sharpener for that half-baked knife set you had to settle for.
6. Vacuums! The vacuums down here suck . . . or, they don’t suck – that’s the problem!!
7. Curtains/drapes. Here is another item that Mexican households generally eschew. So, there are no attractive, high-quality curtains or drapes to be had. After four years, my house is still full of mismatched, “picked it up where I could” curtains that I do not like. Forget about long beautiful, silky, luxurious window coverings. The only thing you’re going to find are plain, cutesy, cotton ones that barely manage to do their job.
There is, however, at least a partial answer to the “shopping/home furnishing” dilemma – money!! Yes, the very thing that people come to Mexico to avoid – spending money – will pretty much answer your home outfitting problems. Tres ironic!! The way I see it – it’s pretty much a one-time expense that you can factor into your budget, now that you’re aware of the problem. Below is a list of retailers that may be able to (albeit, rather dearly) address your need for higher quality home paraphernalia:
- Liverpool – The largest high-end chain in Mexico with locations in Merida, Cancun, Chetumal, La Paz, Villahermosa, Puerta Vallarta, Puebla, Cuernavaca, Morelia, Veracruz, Guadalajara, and Mexico City (80 locations total with plans to open 40 more by 2015). Liverpool locations.
- Sears - La Paz, Cancun, Plaza del Carmen, Mexico City, Merida, Cuernavaca, Queretaro and dozens of other locations (in more populous areas, there is frequently more than one location, and there are 87 locations total). Sears locations.
- Costco – Mexico City, Guadalajara, Queretaro, Puerta Vallarta, Morelia, Merida, Cuernavaca, Cancun and Puebla. They have 32 locations in 29 cities. Costco locations.
- Sam’s Club - Villahermosa, Veracruz, La Paz, Merida, Cancun, Cuernavaca, Queretaro, Playa del Carmen, Mexico City, Guadalajara, Puebla, Morelia, Chetumal, Cozumel, Cuidad de Carmen (Campeche) (again, many of the larger cities have more than one club, and there are dozens more cities). Sam’s Club locations.
- Pier One Imports – For those of us addicted to decorating from the Pier One Import chain, there is good news! As an affiliate of, and outlet in, Sears stores across Mexico, Pier One outlets can be found in Veracruz, Merida, Cancun, Queretaro, Mexico City, Guadalajara, Puebla and 17 other locations. Pier One locations.