Some shoppers from Mexico shy away from the Border

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The triple digit temperature may say summer -- but for retailers it's never too soon to push back to school sales. Along the border this time of year, malls usually benefit from business from Mexico. But this year there's a dip in sales and it's not just the recession.

There are signs violence in some regions of Mexico is hurting U.S. retailers who depend on those shoppers. Some people are reluctant to drive through places plagued by violence or cope with numerous military checkpoints in Mexico leading to their favorite U.S. mall or outlet shopping center.

"It hurts the whole area," said Sherry Huerta, a store manager for "Torrid." The shop at El Paso's Cielo Vista mall sells stylish plus-sized clothes for women and attracts loyal customers from the interior of Mexico. Huerta remembers one woman who would visit monthly with her sister, "The last time she came was two months ago and the sale was around $1500 but we haven't seen her in a while."
She says these days there are far fewer shoppers from the interior of Mexico, "The ones that we do still get, they fly because they're too afraid to drive through Juarez or the bad cities. So they fly over. We've lost a lot of traffic because of stuff going on over there."

Lawyer Francisco Chavez from Chihuahua City made the 3 hour drive to Juarez to see some clients. He took advantage of the business trip to cross the border and do some shopping in El Paso. But he says plenty of people are afraid to drive with their families.
"You feel very unsafe when you arrive in Juarez because of the military checkpoints and the high level of insecurity along the border," he said.

The border city is Mexico's murder capital right now as despite the presence of thousands of Mexican troops. Some motorists use a small desert border crossing on the outskirts rather than the bridges that link El Paso and Juarez.

Concerns about safety may be boosting sales in some cases. Often families will extend their shopping spree over a weekend or several days and stay on the U.S. side of the border where they feel safer. That way they can "lower their level of stress," explained Chavez.

Some of those families seeking safety fulltime are moving to the U.S. And cities all along the border are benefiting economically from that trend, "because so many of those particular residents have moved to this side of the border it's kind of helped in the sense that we continue to see them shopping here," explained Cindy Fought, the El Paso area director of strategic marketing for Simon Properties.

The company owns malls up and down the border. Simon will extend shopping hours in McAllen and the Mercedes Outlet shops during a Texas tax holiday in late August.

Just like the U.S. citizens who took a risk to fill their tanks in Mexico with cheaper gas last year, retailers hope Mexican families looking for back to school bargains will brave the bloodshed in border regions to shop at their favorite U.S. mall.