A trip down Laredo’s San Bernardo Avenue is like visiting a Mexican shopping district without hopping across the border.
The long street parallels I-35 as both roads head south into downtown Laredo. Along the way are 15 or so import stores, specializing in Mexican wares.
“The first import shop pops up at the 2200 block of San Bernardo Avenue,” said Selina Villarreal, marketing manager for the Laredo CVB. “They sell to visitors one on one and do wholesale as well.”
Many of these stores are warehouse-size, and while no two are alike, wares from store to store can be similar. Garden décor and outdoor furnishings are displayed in outdoor areas next to shops. It’s not unusual to see trucks leaving stores loaded with wrought iron tables and chairs, metal giraffes to stand guard in the garden or cheery chimineas to warm patios.
Some stores are upscale, such as Vega’s Interiores Mejicanos, which counts First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt as a former customer. With an interior designer on staff, it’s famed for custom furniture designs. Other stores are stocked with the sombreros and other knickknacks popular with souvenir seekers and favorites like embroidered blouses, silver jewelry, carved wooden crosses, bright pottery and flavorful spices and candies.
Perks for shoppers
“For those shopping along the border, it’s a timesaver if you don’t have a passport or time to cross the border,” said Villarreal. It’s also a value, she points out. The further Mexican wares get from the border, the more they cost. “As soon as they take it out of Laredo, the more expensive these items are. Here, you are paying the same rate as you would be in Mexico,” she said.
Plan to spend at least four hours on San Bernardo, Villarreal says, and make a call to Visit Laredo to let them know a tour group is coming to shop there. That way, stores might be able to plan a little something special. Vega’s, for example, does margarita sip and shops so shoppers can wander around the Spanish mission-style store with a cool drink in hand. The margaritas might also “loosen the purse strings,” Villarreal points out.
Tour operators also need to leave space on the motorcoach for the inevitable purchases. “If you are going back with a little metal longhorn, he’s going to need his own seat,” Villarreal said.
A different Mexican shopping experience
For a different sort of Mexican shopping experience, the three-day International Sister Cities Festival is held each July in Laredo’s Sames Auto Arena. Some 200 artisans typically exhibit their works, coming from across Mexico to sell jewelry, leather goods, clothing, food and other products. In 2019, 25,000 people attended the free expo. This year’s event is July 15-17.
Villarreal has this advice, based on her own shopping experience at the festival: Don’t delay buying what you like. “If you put it off until Sunday, you risk that they will sell out,” she said.
For more information contact:
Selina Villarreal, marketing manager