Writer Alexis Okeowo and I headed out to the Nacional Monte Piedad in the Zocalo Thursday morning. The Pawn shop, which is over 200 years old and takes up nearly a block of an old colonial building and provides low interest loans to Mexicans.
In the case of this pawn shop your goods are held for three months, interest free, then another three to four if you’re willing to pay the interest. At the conclusion of those six to seven months though the goods are taken by Nacional Monte Piedad and resold. This building specializes in only gold jewelry and watches.
We interviewed a few different families after I had spoken with a guard on Monday who commented that apart from the usual numbers, there was an extra amount of people pawning their goods or paying the interest to extend their loans since Monday. Sure enough thirty minutes before the doors opened the line was nearly to the end of the block. By two to eight it had just wrapped around the second wall of the building.
Im including some of the audio interviews we did with the translations below, but I didn’t cut myself out so you can hear the questions. This was hard to do, many people didn’t want to talk to us.
Of course many felt bad about pawning their things at all, as many were bringing family jewelry. Mexico is a much more cash based economy and while Americans would ride out credit cards for a week of no work, many here don’t have that luxury. The cash from the loan allows them to get by as some people we talked to, from a house wife to travel agent to cell phone owner confirmed.
The Olmedo family, made up of mother Estella Olmedo and sons Javier Olmedo, 35, and Marco Antonio Olmedo, 27, were within the first ten in line:
Pawning: Some bracelets, little bracelets, Yeah they’re our property. We came to “refrendar” when you have stuff in pawn and your time is up, you can come and pay interest to extend the loans.
A: Javier Olmedo – I have a cell phone shop and Marco has a barber shop.
Q: Did the influenza affect you a lot?
A: Yes, a lot, there were no people.
Q: Did you close them?
A: Javier and Marco: We had them closed, or we would open for minutes because there were no people out there.
Q: How low did your business fall?
A: All: Ooohhh like 80 %, no 90 %, we had only like 10% of normal business
Q: So it affected you a lot?
A: Javier: Yes, the truth is it did.
Q: Do you think you would be able to take your things out of pawn if you hadn’t had such bad business during that week.
A: Javier: Yes. Exactly.
Second in line was travel agent Julio Martinez
Q: What is your name?
Q: And your last name?
Q: And what are you bringint today to pawn?
A: Well some alajas,
Q: Whats that?
A: Rings, jewelry
Q: What is your job?
A: Travel agent
Q: So have you been affected a lot?
A: Yeah, a little a little,
Q: How much did your business drop over the last week or so?
A: Well generally its been low, but its gotten worse over the past few weeks for obvious reasons.
Q: So in a percentage how much would you say your business has dropped?
A: 60 percent, maybe more, there are no sales, no one traveling into Mexico
Q: So people in and around the city aren’t traveling?
A: Here in the city, for what corresponds to me, I imagine that similar circumstances are affecting other people to a lesser or higher degree . . . but in my case it is really affecting me
Q: Can I take a picture of what you’re pawning?
A: No, but they’re alajas and in Mexico thats rings, things like that.
Q: So they’re things that belong to your family?
A: Yes, of the family.
Q: Does it make you sad to pawn it?
A: Well it’s a moment in which (the alajas) work to help you. And you get a margin of time to recover them.
Q: So it’s not normal, but it’s done from time to time?
A: You do it during events, so during an event like this.
Q: So I imagine the economy and the influenza hitting at the same time . . .
A: Well they hit at the same time, and they hit us too. The influenza hit us, but also the question of the economy.
Q: Do you think that businesses now have permission to be open things will get better?
A: Yes, yes yes. Now with more activity, even if it is a little, you start to sell, and then you get some business, and that allows you to solve things that you have to solve.
Q: When do you think you’ll be able to take them back out?
A: They give you a margin of two to three months so in that time, so you have to take them out during that time to not lose them, so some where around that (2-3 months)
Q: Is this your first visit?
A: I’ve known this place for several years, when you end up in circumstances like this we visit it.
Q: Have you seen your business improve or is it still slow?
A: It’s going slow, but it has to improve as the situation improves and as we apply ourselves (to our work)
Lastly a homemaker, Maria Eugenia Rodriguez, who made sheets, tablecloths, etc on the side, who said a boost in business from making homemade cubrebocas, or facemasks, had helped her. She was extending her loan and was nearly last in line in the neon orange shirt.
Well we came out even [her home business], but I missed going out, we couldn’t go out to the street for several days. It was a hard situation for us, because the fears of going out and then being trapped inside . . .
They’re means [government regulations] that we have to respect, because as a caregiver of a family if there is a dangerous situation, well you know if you go out you can bring back something bad to your house.
It was interesting to talk to people and to see what you can do in an economy that is so heavily cash based as opposed to the credit based American economy. I’m sure if the government had continued to have shops/restaurants and businesses closed things wouldn’t have gone as well or as calmly as they have so far.