YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Times Shopper: Acapulco

Americans Shopping Where the Locals Buy

June 19, 1988|JENNIFER MERIN | Merin is a New York City free-lance writer .

Americans visiting Acapulco are looking for bargains. And to find them they're shopping where the locals buy casual clothes, beach wear, ceramics, papier-mache sculpture, onyx objects, tooled leasher, baskets, hand-woven rugs, blankets and decorative items.

Acapulco residents shop mostly in the old section of town where dozens of boutiques, specialty stores and gift shops line narrow, cluttered streets.

The best bargains of all are in the mercado . In this maze-like triangular area about 400 stalls are clustered around small octagonal parks where vendors take afternoon siestas on benches and stray cats scamper after scraps of paper.

The market is bounded by Matamoros, Velasquez de Leon and Parian streets. It's divided into two distinct sections: Stalls numbered up to the 280s offer traditional goods and handicrafts, while stalls in the 300s sell foodstuffs, household goods, inexpensive clothing, electronic goods, shoes and personal accessories.

In the mercado , items don't have fixed prices. Many vendors, assuming that American tourists are rich, hike prices. This is especially true for handicrafts.

What you pay depends upon the impression you make on the seller, plus your bargaining skills. Dress down. Wear simple, neat, casual clothing and leave jewelry and designer watches at your hotel. Be friendly and polite.

Assume that "private" conferences in English will be understood. Pretend disinterest, especially if you really like something. Ask the price of several items, including those you really like. Never accept the first price.

Do some comparison shopping, then get competitive bids. Look for discounts when you buy several items; try to make several purchases in one shop. If you can't agree on an acceptable price, walk out. Often the vendor will follow you with a better offer.

Pay in Dollars

Vendors quote prices in pesos. Sometimes you can get a better deal if you pay in dollars. Know the daily exchange rate and round off dollar figures in your favor. Many vendors accept this practice because the peso has a steady, built-in, daily rate of decline against the dollar.

If you have a Mexican friend who lives in Acapulco or is traveling with you, shop as a team. Go into the stall first, choose your merchandise and get the prices. Afterward your friend can enter, price the same items (they'll be about 30% less), bargain and can buy for you.

Stall No. 129 sells baskets that are multicolored, hand-woven round barrels with lids and handles (about $18). Also, rectangular bags decorated with straw flowers and two sturdy leather straps with metal fasteners (about $8) that are large enough to carry purchases home. Shoulder bags made of a plastic-like material called raffia come in silver, gold and pastel colors that are ideal for tropical evening wear (about $4 or $2 each if you buy five or more).

Stall No. 265 has leather goods. Unusual carry-on luggage is made to look like distressed denim and has six convenient compartments (about $75). The same bag in tan or brown leather costs $55. There are also tooled-leather golf bags (about $200), handbags (about $25 and up), eyeglasses cases with pen and pencil compartments (about $15) and change purses (about $8). Leather bomber jackets cost about $230, belts and sandals about $20.

Stall No. 238 sells large, sturdy, tube-shaped leather bags with tooling (about $43) and tot-size suede vests (about $25).

Elephants and Giraffes

Onyx sculptures, table services and chess sets are sold at stalls No. 187 and 193. Items from decorative onyx fruit in an onyx bowl (about $35 a set with seven pieces of fruit; individual pieces of fruit are about $2.50) to functional onyx shot glasses on a tray (about $15 per set of six glasses).

There are also onyx elephants and giraffes, Mexican peasants with large sombreros and onyx boxes, small and large. These stalls sell papier-mache parrots (about $10, large-size) and colorful fruits and vegetables (about $2.50 each), plus dolls (about $8) in traditional dress from various regions of Mexico.

Rugs, blankets and ponchos are sold throughout the market. Stall No. 124 has pure wool ponchos for about $9. Stall No. 226 sells rugs for about $75 and up.

Silver and alpaca jewelry and trinkets are good buys. Prices are calculated according to the weight of the metal and complexity of the workmanship.

Stall No. 247 carries modern-looking silver and lapis bracelets (46 grams of silver; about $81) made in Taxco, and diamond-cut silver bracelets (33 grams of silver; about $65) made in Guadalajara. Alpaca and malachite bolo ties cost about $13, engraved belt-buckle sets are about $20 and smooth and shiny evening bags about $30.

Acapulco souvenir T-shirts with elaborate sequin decorations (about $20), embroidered dresses (about $20 and up) and blouses (about $15 and up), bathing suits and cover-ups and lightweight cotton shirts for men (about $12 and up) hang from the rafters of many shops.

Foodstuffs, casual clothing and electronic goods are good buys, too. Hair clips with colorful silk flowers cost from $3 to $6 and festive parrot earrings are about $2. Women's cotton shorts and top separates are about $15. Wind-up toys of all sorts sell for about $2.

Prices quoted in this article are approximate because they were agreed upon as the result of bargaining and reflect currency exchange rates at the time of writing .

Los Angeles Times Articles