For years, the outlet malls in San Marcos have bustled with Mexican tourists looking for deals. Mexican license plates dotted the parking lot, and it was common to see people piling out of tour buses to do their shopping.
“I haven’t seen a bus in a while,” said Bradley Tanksley, store manager of New York, New York, after hanging a long gown on a rack above his head on a recent weekday. “We’ve had a lot more people from around here and the states, the closer states, but not a lot from Mexico.”
And hardly any Mexican license plates were to be seen in the lot just outside the store’s window.
San Marcos officials say sales tax revenue from February, based on January sales, was down about 9 percent, or $200,697, compared with the same month last year. They believe, at least in part, that the decrease is a result of fewer foreign travelers, particularly those from Mexico, making the city their shopping destination.
This marks the second consecutive decrease after January revenues saw a drop of more than 3 percent. Retail sales took a hit of almost 10 percent in January but were partially offset by a 9 percent increase in accommodation and food sales and a 36 percent increase in wholesale.
Officials are awaiting similarly detailed figures for February revenues but suspect retail is again the driver. The city’s finance director, Heather Hurlbert, added that this year’s numbers might also appear lower because of the boost in tax collections experienced after the construction of the Amazon distribution center last year.
Rebecca Ybarra-Ramirez, director of the city’s Convention and Visitor Bureau, said the recent decline in shoppers from Mexico is likely because of the weakened value of the peso compared with the dollar. The peso hit an all-time low against the dollar in January, but it has been slowly recovering. As of last week, one peso was worth barely more than a nickel.
The depreciation came amid President Donald Trump’s increased immigration enforcement, talk of a border wall and threats to obliterate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Still, Ybarra-Ramirez said she isn’t overly concerned about the decrease, saying San Marcos regularly “see(s) our ups and downs.” Hurlbert said her office will be “carefully monitoring” sales tax revenue in coming months.
“I don’t want to be flippant about it,” Hurlbert said. “It is not a cause for great concern, but we are concerned and being diligent about and keeping an eye on it, and we’re able to modify our spending if we need to.”
Mexican shoppers have long been a staple for Tanger Outlets and the San Marcos Premium Outlets. A study led by Texas State University researchers in San Marcos showed that holiday shoppers from Mexico visiting outlet stores in late 2008 spent roughly twice as much as their American counterparts.
Roxanne Anis, assistant store manager at GoldToe at Tanger, said she’s noticed fewer Mexicans coming through the sock shop in recent months. Anis said those who do come tell her that financially, it doesn’t make sense for many people.
“A lot of our traffic is very heavily based on the people from Mexico, and they’re just not coming over,” Anis said. “The dollar-to-peso exchange is very high, so there’s no point in coming because they pay the same in Mexico that they come here and pay.”
One draw for international shoppers is the sales tax refund offered by the state. Carolyn Petty, president of TaxFree Shopping Limited, which has a kiosk at Tanger Outlets, said she and other colleagues in tourism-related companies have been traveling to Mexico even more often lately to try to drum up interest in shopping-fueled tourism and to ease travelers’ reluctance.
“I have just read reports of people on the border saying, ‘Don’t go shop in Texas. Buy Mexican products,’” Petty said. “And we’re saying, ‘No, we love you!’”
The dip in sales tax revenue made sense to many shoppers at Tanger on a recent weekday. Carrying a bag with a new stuffed animal for his child from the Disney Store, Garvin Biscette, 40, said he had no doubt that the slowdown in international travel is a reaction to Trump’s political rhetoric and actions on immigration.
“I think that a lot of people will avoid America because of his policies,” said Biscette, who is originally from the Caribbean but lives in Austin now. “And that’s going to hurt the economy.”
Gerardo Villareal, 66, came with his family to Tanger from Austin on a recent weekday, his young children swirling around him, one of them dressed in a black Mexico national team soccer jersey.
Villareal, who is originally from Mexico, said family members and others he knows who still live in Mexico are offended by Trump’s changes to immigration policies and enforcement.
“People don’t want to spend money like before,” Villareal said.
Correction: This article has been updated to show San Marcos is awaiting a detailed breakdown of sales tax revenues for February, not another month.