The noble Tienda de Abarrotes – or as they are more affectionately known, Tienditas – are a cornerstone of communities and neighbourhoods all over Yucatán. As long as anyone can remember, these small mom and pop shops have served as places to pick up goodies, catch up on the day’s gossip, or get that missing ingredient for your Frijol con Puerco, Puchero, or Escabeche Oriental. Tienditas come in all shapes and sizes, some are standalone structures while others may take up a section of their proprietor’s home.
The arrival in the 1990s of large domestic and international franchised shop competitors has certainly given the small Tienditas a run for their money. But despite predictions that they would soon go the way of the dinosaur, this has not yet happened. There’s no denying that franchised stores have their strengths; they are very good at keeping popular products in stock, offering services such as express bank deposits, and even allowing you to pay many of your bills. While it is nice to know you will be able to find what you are looking for in any chain location in any part of the country, this uniformity also makes them a bit boring, a bit sterile.
Tienditas on the other hand bring with them a more local flavor. It may be delicious Tortas or slices of Sandwichón, individually made and portioned every day, or things like homemade packets of spices which always taste and smell better than those packaged in a factory. There are also the items that you would never in a million years find in a corporate owned shop. For example, when I was a little kid, around Christmas time I would spend my allowance on different types of small fireworks (Bombitas) such as the famous Petardos and Palomas. I would also hang out with the bigger neighbourhood kids and pour my pesos into the arcade (Maquinita) only to be quickly bested at Street Fighter 2.
Especially in small towns, Tienditas serve a vital function as they are often one of the few places where basic foodstuffs such as bread, ham, cheese, and milk can be purchased. They often carry other miscellaneous items such as hammock hooks and machetes. But Tienditas also serve an important role as gathering places; it is very common to see groups of children and seniors sitting outside, playing dominos, cards, or just creating a ruckus. No matter where you’re from, you likely have similar memories, but Tienditas in Yucatán (and México more broadly) have a charm all their own.
Tienditas and chain stores each have their niche as well as pros and cons, but in a world where everything is becoming more homogeneous and large businesses continue to swallow up small shops, it’s more important than ever to support independent businesses. I for one can not imagine my neighbourhood without its colorful Tienditas, to say nothing of the bakeries, Molinos (where you get tortillas), Fruterías, and Agencias (small liquor shops). Viva México and long live the Tiendita.
Editorial by Carlos Rosado.
Photography by Carlos Rosado for use in Yucatán Today.
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