Pawn Shops are seeing bigger business in the city

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?

A: Julio

Q: And your last name?

A: Martinez

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.

Castigado! You’re punished!


So are you ready to learn about the most awfully painful card game?

A few days ago when fellow writers Camilo Smith and Alexis Okeowo and I headed to the Basilica de la Virgen de Guadalupe we found it deserted.

No tourists and nearly no worshippers except for a handful nuns and a couple renewing their vows the area was deserted. Most stalls were shut down with no one to sell to because of Mexico City’s action to shut down public places, including areas of worship to help prevent the spread of swine flu or H1N1.

So what do those die hard vendors and taxi drivers around the basilica do when there is no work? They play Castigado!

Estos chavos, made up of a taxi driver, nearby vendors were playing castigado or punished one (of which I could fine no links online):


So how does this work? Well it’s pretty simple, below are a few cards since this game doesn’t use a normal U.S. style card deck.


But it’s pretty simple, you are trying to drop the cards in your hand. Each person places a card down and then whoever placed the lowest card collects the deck. It keeps going until one poor soul . . . during this game it happened to be this guy:


Is stuck with the deck. So now why is this so awful? Well they put the deck in front of him and tell him to select a card without looking. This guy chose something like the 10 King of coins, anyway they start flipping each card and each symbol equals a punishment, done as many times as it is printed on the card, until the card he called appears.

So for example the six of spears means six jabs in the side. This continues until they reached the card the kid called at first. You had to feel sorry for this guy, his card was fourth from last.

Spears = jab in the side


Sword = punch under the chin


and the absolute worst:

Coin = pinch your eyelids (some guys don’t just pinch one eyelid but both at a time)




Of course there was the shoulder punch, and one other, but overall the top three stood out.

Here are some pics of the game before it got crazy:




And here is the after photo I took of him:


Thank goodness there are things to do in this city again . . . I was getting ready to play castigado, join the neighbors for some 9pm karoake last Saturday, or just feel as sad as this little dog looks outside the grocery store:




Some random ones from the zocalo


Visiting the basilica again this morning and then the zocalo . . . Hopefully the last of the swine flu photos











Shooting today, shooting tomorrow

Went out shooting with photographer Brian Frank today, he is based in Mexico City and a pretty amazing photographer. I shot some, but his stuff, which will be featured in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday I believe is just awesome.

Frank shooting below:


Some of the pics I shot today, we went from La Merced Market and were kicked out, then to El Centro Cathedral, to some neighborhoods and finally to Garibaldi plaza where mariachis gather, it was a fun day.

La Merced Market:




Kite flying in El Centro neighborhoods:


And the interesting “printer” from el centro:




And other pics I liked:







Picnic in the park

In the hopes of feeling like we’re not all just spending out time at home (because all movie theatres, museums, large parks, public places, bars, restaurants, schools, and pretty much any other place people might gather being closed) we had a picnic in Condesa’s Parque Mexico . . . nice day for sure.




And just playing in the park:



Strolling through deserted streets of the Mexican mega city


Taking a stroll through Condesa . . . mission: Starbucks . . . yeah I know, but it’s tasty . . . We then walked back from Condesa to the apartment in Roma, beautiful light, deserted streets. It makes it feel pretty dead and lonely around here.

stroll02_lresParque Mexico in Condesa


stroll07_lresArrival at starbucks . . . only four people allowed inside at a time, no tables/seats available.

stroll11_lresSecurity guard/Starbucks bouncer doing a crossword


condesa01_lresParque Mexico deserted for a holiday Friday in Mexico City.

condesa03_lresStrolling back by Insurgentes

street01_lresGotta love the masks

alexis01_lresOn the street corner

condesa05_lresCrossing a deserted Insurgentes.

facemask01_lresAbandoned face mask in the street.


And some random ones from along the way:



Tomorrow’s plan? HIt up the Basilica de Guadalupe provided I feel fine. Feeling a little exhausted right now from this long week, need to take a break.


Tripping to Tlapan

A doctor puts on her gloves outside the INER Thursday afternoon.

So yesterday I headed out with reporter Camilo Smith to Tlapan in the South of Mexico City to the INER or Instituto Nacional de Enfermedades Respiratorias (Nacional Instutite for Respiratory Diseases). Our mission was to find a family, doctors and nurses who were dealing with the H1N1 or swine flu virus. We talked to an EMT, some doctors and then happened upon a father who was being discharged after spending three days in the INER. Then we asked if we could follow him home as he saw his children for the first time since being admitted.

No visitors are allowed in the area were H1N1 patients are kept to prevent the spread of disease and the only communication is through doctors, so needless to say his family was thrilled to see him. I’d love to post the photos here of that moment but I have to wait till they go to print. I promise they’re good though . .

Yes that’s a New York Fire Department shirt being worn by the INER EMT.

The below photos were taken on the extremely long ride between Roma Norte and Tlapa yesterday:



Sporting the scarf instead of face mask in Tlapa Thursday afternoon.

Pharmacist in Roma Norte takes a break, every pharmacy in the neighborhood is sold out of face masks and only one has gloves left.