Plaza las Americas, San Ysidro
Last June, CEO of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce Jason Wells sent a letter to the acting secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, requesting the withdrawal of travel restrictions for tourists that represent around 90 percent of clients for all San Ysidro businesses.
According to the Chamber of Commerce, 96 percent of their members have losses attributed directly to border restrictions and 13 percent of those businesses have permanently closed or have no plans for reopening. Despite this dependence on border-crossing profits, they haven’t received any response from the government.
Sunil Gakhreja is one of those small business owners who has been directly affected by the absence of Mexican tourism. His store is still open, even with sales down more than 50 percent. “We’ve been losing money for seven months but if I stop and do nothing, I’ll lose everything. I still have to pay the mortgage, the rent of the place, the water bill, all the insurances; the bills don’t stop,” he said.
This crisis has hit this border town hard. Even the 2008 recession had less impact for business owners like Sunil, who opened his store during those difficult times. “I opened my store in the recession time and trust me, it was not that bad. Right now, me and my wife are coming in to work. I had to get rid of my employees and work in the store because we don’t have enough customers,” he noted.
With owners struggling to make their businesses survive, employees have also suffered the consequences. Iris Avila, who used to work right on the border at a fast-food shop at Plaza Las Americas, went from working more than 30 hours every two weeks in high season to only 5 hours in 14 days.
“I was earning $480 minimum, and then my last paycheck in February was $60. I only went into work once in two weeks, they were practically not giving me any work,” she said. Iris stressed that Mexican tourists are not the only ones affected by these seven months of restrictions but also American citizens.
This situation put her in debt so that she could pay rent and utilities. On top of that, she had to spend the savings she had to buy a car and, for the first time in her life, had to request unemployment insurance. The unemployment took four months to arrive.
“Sometimes I cried out of despair, because I went into huge debt. Now that I don’t have money for rent I’m being evicted, but all the rents in Tijuana are in dollars” Iris said. Right now, business owners and employees from San Ysidro are hoping to see the end of the restrictions this month, because small businesses are the ones struggling the most to survive.
“Right now, it’s time to stay strong and maybe buy at the local store, because everything is closing but Walmart is not closed, Costco is not closed. For them, they are making more money than ever, you know, but the small stores... they are losing everything,” Sunil concluded.