When Wal-Mart Comes to Town

“I don’t know what would have happened to Wal-Mart if we had laid low and never stirred up the competition. My guess is that we would have remained a strictly regional operator.” Sam Walton

Wal-Mart entered Nicaragua in 2005 and became Wal-Mart Centroamerica in 2006. The total retail units in Nicaragua are 89 (as of 2015). This includes 64 Pali stores, 16 Maxi Pali, 1 Wal-Mart Supercenter, and 8 La Unión stores.

And now, make that 65 Pali stores because Moyogalpa on Ometepe Island had their grand opening on June 30th.

IMG_2194Wal-Mart has been part of our lives in the United States for over half a century. Debates continue to rage as to the impact on the U.S. economy and society, as well as the positive and negative influences of this powerhouse. Time will tell what impact Wal-Mart has on our little island, but I already see some changes.

Pali has wide isles, cash registers, and shopping carts. We can use our credit card to purchase groceries. The day of the grand opening, most people were carefully comparing prices and few people were buying. It is still a novelty on the island of small pulperias and veggie trucks that go door to door selling their wares.

IMG_2171I was most excited about the meat section. Until recently, the meat in our small stores has not been displayed. Instead, we always have to ask for our chicken, hamburger, and pork roasts. Then, they send an employee to a back room where they dig through the freezer to find the frozen cut of meat we want.

Pali has fresh meat and rotisserie chicken! It is unusual to find fresh meat on the island because it has to be transported from the mainland and without large refrigerated trucks, the meat is always frozen so that it transports easier.

We wonder what happens to the fresh meat in Pali when it is no longer fresh. Do they feed it to the stray dogs? How often is the meat and fresh produce brought to Ometepe Island? We are watching closely to find the answers.

IMG_2177The Central American Pali stores cater to a Latin American market, so generally the products sold are rice, beans, and low-cost products. To me, it is like a giant pulperia, but with everything neatly labeled and organized.

It is a great store if you are looking for the basics of everyday Nicaraguan cooking, but we prefer items that we can’t buy at Pali, like peanut butter and good whole wheat bread.

IMG_2172Pali hired many new employees from Ometepe Island. The pay is competitive and the benefits, such as health insurance, are required and enforced by the Nicaraguan government.

IMG_2183Two weeks after the grand opening, we have noticed some subtle and not so subtle changes in the other grocery stores in Moyogalpa. The Mini-Super installed fancy coolers for their fresh meat display. Vegetables in decorative bins line the walls, like leaf lettuce, and broccoli. The Mini-Super has morphed into a grocery store that caters to the tastes of foreigners. The Mini-Super is comparable to La Union, which offers higher priced imported  items. They have several varieties of peanut butter, a great selection of cereal and wheat bread, and now they have thin stick pretzels!! I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to see Snyder’s thin stick pretzels. It is the little things in life that tickle me!

Pali has created a healthy competition in Moyogalpa. Our little fish store now specializes in items from Pricemart in Managua. I have standing order of chocolate chips, which I can’t find in other stores on the island. Yesterday, I noticed that they put a chalk board outside with all the prices of the meats they offer for sale from Pricemart. I can order items online through their email and they are in the store in several days.

IMG_2188The small pulperias will always thrive because they offer credit to the poorer families. Our Friday veggie truck still comes to our door and I hope that continues because they always have a good selection of veggies and will order special items for us if they are in season.

IMG_2203So, what happens when Wal-Mart comes to a small rural island town? Here, people celebrate! With our population of 40,000 residents and numerous tourists, there is something for everyone. Pali blends into the environment with a small store that caters to the local population with low-cost food items.  It forces other grocery stores to find their marketing niche offering different items to a diverse population of tourists, expats, and local residents.

Change is good. There are still a number of competing grocery stores, offering consumers many choices.  Pali has brought healthy competition and new marketing skills to Ometepe Island. So, to some degree, Wal-Mart coming to town will help local entrepreneurs and small business owners who do not directly compete with the same items Wal-Mart sells.

Wal-Mart is stirring up the competition, yet I see it as positive. But, you can be sure that I will be watching carefully to see the positive and negative impacts of Wal-Mart coming to Ometepe Island.

23 thoughts on “When Wal-Mart Comes to Town

  1. Woo Hoo! Ometepe has hit the big time now! I can definitely relate to the enthusiasm as I remember, way back in the late ’70’s and living in a little town in Montana, when the Dairy Queen and later a Taco Bell opened up. Change and progress in all it’s forms! And how fun to see the celebration and excitement in your photos although I can’t imagine donning some of the multi-layered and rubber/plastic costumes in your tropical heat!
    Seriously, one of the big things we noticed traveling across Central America was how spoiled for choice we are in the US. In fact, that became one of our big take-away lessons that a lot of times ‘more’ isn’t better and it’s good to figure out what you need and really learn to appreciate the luxuries. That being said … looks like Pali is going to be a good thing for your island! Anita (P.S. My husband really like his thin pretzel sticks too!)

    • Anita, about those big plastic costumes. When I was dancing with the Gerber Baby food guy (yes, that was fun), I noticed that he had a fan running in his costume. Without some kind of ventilation, the bunny and the Gerber baby food jar people would surely succumb to heat exhaustion.
      Pali doesn’t have any cheese, either. We like the big blocks of cheddar cheese, so we had to go to the Mini-Super to get it. Dos Pinõs is my favorite brand of dairy products and I bought the last block of cheddar cheese. When we opened it, it was covered in mold, but the date wasn’t expired on the package. We returned it yesterday and were told that Costa Rica won’t let any of the Dos Pinõs products cross the border into Nicaragua. They are always fighting about something. Now, we have no source for good cheddar cheese anymore.
      They reimbursed us for the cheese and all is well. Now we have to find another source for cheese on the island. Still, we have a lot more choices than we ever had before.

  2. Walmart also created new jobs for people and that’s always a good thing, isn’t it? I’m surprised to hear there’s a Walmart there though. I hope it does well and I’d be interested to hear more about the fresh meat situation as times goes on. I hope they’re doing something useful with it if it’s too old to sell, but not yet spoiled.

    • Sunni, I was surprised at how many Wal-Marts are in Central America, all with different names. I haven’t been to the Super Wal-Mart in Managua, yet. But, I heard it offers a big selection of things. I am always on the lookout for good fitted sheets. Maybe they have some. 😀

  3. The Pali Tienda looks like a sister store to the Bodegas Aurrerás here in México. Th color scheme is similar and the cashiers’ uniforms are almost identical to those here.

    Overall, I’m an admirer of what Wal Mart has done in mexico, despite some shady dealings with certain government figures to get preferred real estate (if I understand it correctly.). It’s business, isn’t it?

    When Bodega opened in Pátzcuaro, there was considerable wailing and knee-jerk reaction against Wal Mart among some local expats. There was some typical contradiction,or to be honest, hypocrisy, expressed by several. It was said the it would drive the local abarrotes (equivalent to a pulpería) out of business. Well, that has not happened. The local stores continue, serving the needs of the neighborhood, still cluttered, sometimes dirty, but convenient. We shop at both Bodega Aurrerá and local tiendas de abarrotes, as our needs vary. There’s room for both.
    We now shop less and less at the traditional mercado in Pátzcuaro. I love its color and variety and its personalities, but it has become hazardous to walk on broken pavement, it’s dirty, and most of all, there’s no parking, so we have to carry our loaded shopping bags several hundred meters to where we parked our van. I note that mercado produce is definitely dirtier, and spoils more quickly, than that from a Wal Mart affiliate.

    The Bodega Aurrrerá stores are pretty bare bones, sort of a medium warehouse store. The selection of merchandise, notably produce, which was not of very good variety or quality at first, has improved immeasurably. The Wal Mart Super Center stores, of which there are several in Morelia, the state capital, are attractive. (Except for the worn out shopping carts at the Plaza La Huerta store, the first to open in Morelia.)

    The premier W-M Supercenter in Morelia is the one at Altozano, an upscale business, residential and commercial zona on a ridge high above Morelia. When we are in the area, we stock up on the fresh, attractive produce, unusual pastas, and more. I found several varieties of Lindt Swiss Bittersweet chocolate. The stores are clean, attractive and well stocked. The main negative for me is that on several occasions, I left my already partly filled cart to look for an item, and when I returned, the cart had been moved away to a cart pound by some zealous employee. That drives me mad.

    Don Cuevas

    • Wow! It really does look similar. I wonder what the Wal-Mart stores are called in each Central American country. I am going to have to google it. Thanks for the description of your stores in Mexico. I think the only people who are worried about the impact of Wal-Mart in small rural areas are the expats. You and I both saw the impact of the first Wal-Marts in Arkansas, and I never noticed a negative impact. Did you?
      We still shop at a number of small tiendas because they offer a variety of things in each store. I like exploring all the stores because we never know what we will find. But, I have been in Palis on the mainland and their stores are very predictable always with the same products. No surprises, like when I went to the Mini-Super the other day and found Snyder’s thin pretzel sticks. I paraded around the store and told everyone I saw, “They have pretzel sticks!!”
      Haha! A cart pound. I will watch for those zealous employees next time I shop at Pali. Thanks again, Michael.

  4. This is an interesting discussion. I think it is fantastic that the Nicaragua govt makes Walmart give benefits to it’s employees! I really need to check out some of these central American countries, especially Belize 🙂

    • Barbara, socialized health care in Nicaragua is free to everyone. I can’t say that they receive the best care in the public hospitals, but it is better than no care. Workers who are injured on the job also get a kind of workman’s comp that will cover their monthly expenses while they are recuperating.
      Of course there are pros and cons to everything, but I like that all employees receive free health care. 😀

  5. Jinotega has two Walmart stores — a older Pali which was here before I moved, and a new Maxi Pali, which the local cooperative of five owners (more like a US corporation or partnership than a US style coop) took as a challenge. Maxi Pali here seems to be competing with the mercado rather than the five stores the coop runs. Supermercado Guadelupe tends to be higher end and their two stores in town are like smaller. I’ve only once been in the fourth store and just heard that they have a fifth one. The older Pali is a bit run down. Jinotega is also getting a new Commercial Central which is in the town core. Don’t know what they’ll be doing. MaxiPali occasionally has things that nobody else has, but never has had brown rice.

    I can walk to MiniGuadelupe, but there’s a fairly full service pulperia across the street from my house and I also buy from the street vendors (could have even bought a two pound bag of chia seed). The bigger store I take cabs to and from. Don’t know if most people on Ometepe have at least a motorcycle, but transportation can be an issue if the store doesn’t consider that.

    • Rebecca, thanks for the description of the grocery stores in Jinotega. I haven’t been there for about 4 years and I’ll bet you have seen many changes.
      Transportation really isn’t an issue on Ometepe Island. The bus stop is across the street from Pali. I had to laugh, though, because there is even a handicapped parking space in the parking lot. Can one even register their vehicles and get a handicapped parking sticker? Is there such a thing? I have visions of wheel chairs lined up in the handicapped parking spot. And can the police issue a citation if someone is parked in the handicapped spot who is not handicapped? I am going to have to research this. Hmmmm.

  6. What an interesting read! I shopped at the Pali market in Granada on Sunday. It did have a good range of goods but i have to say the refrigeration unit was labouring, to say the least. The goods were dripping wet and not particularly chilled. Now that I know this is a Walmart business I can only think they’re cutting corners and under resourcing. I don’t think many people in the States would have accepted yogurt pottles and juice cartons that were soaking wet from condensation.

    • Jill, I used to shop at the old Pali near the market in Granada. It always smelled like rancid meat. I remember years ago when electricity was rationed in Granada and the city was without electricity for most of the morning working hours. Crazy!
      That is my biggest concern about the new mega-stores in Nicaragua. The electric is always sporadic and we have daily blackouts and brown outs. What happens to the perishable food products?
      I remember when Dove’s chocolate bars first came to the island. The bars were twisted and malformed. You could tell that they had melted and were refrozen many times. Yuck.

      • Yes, I’ve encountered similar challenges in other places in the world that I’ve visited. And generally I’ve found it safer to eat what the locals eat although sometimes I can’t help myself. In Granada I couldn’t resist the yoghurt. I bought it and ate it with no ill effects! I’m on Ometepe now and have just walked past the Pali market, it looks very swish! You live in a very beautiful part of the world. Concepcion makes New Zealand’s Mt Ngarauhoe (otherwise known as Mt Doom from LOTR) look very tame!

  7. Also:
    1) Pali shows his stuff very well and preserved.
    Almost all products of pulperias are dirty and halfbroken; the Pali’s fridges are cleaned every day (all the workers use gloves and higienic hat)
    2) The 40/50 % of pulperías’s packagees are out of date of deadline, sometime for two or more months, instead Pali check it daily
    3) the meat cames fresh (not frozen) so you can split your doses and then froze them, whitout interrupting the cold chain. The others buy in rivas or managua early in the morning, put the frozen meat/fish in a ordinary bag in a car (not fridgecar) then split the meat when they arrive in Ometepe after 5/6 hot hours! (already thawed) and froze it again more and more…good for healt?
    3) for all the past 10 years they decides prices without logic, now everything is 20/30% cheaper..it’s a case or the monopoly is broken?
    4) in case of blackout Palì counts on reserve of eletricity to not getdown the frezer, what about the others?

    I think it is posible to buy some in the pulperia but not everything now. I have living in Ometepe for 3 years and I suffered 6 very hard stomach problems, always for badmanipulated food, am I the only one?
    I am sure there are experts in food storage, buying, selling, cooking well trained by Palì, what can we say about the background of owners of pulperia who until yesterday worked in the fields or raising chicken and pigs? who turnoff the fridge in the night to save eletricity? pulperias that have not bathroom and you wonder where they wash hands, knifes o whatever the use?
    If atun costs 40 cordoba on the street and 25 at Palì where has to buy a man who earns 5000 cordobas monthly? (125 cans vs 200)…
    I do not work for Palì, I generally dislike big mall, I love Ometepe and her people. Let’s hope Pali estimulates in the next two years a new generation of Ometepinos entrepreneurs!!!

    • Diego muchas gracias por sus pensamientos. Ha respondido a muchas de las preguntas que tenía sobre Pali. Siempre he estado preocupado por la compra de carne en la Isla de Ometepe y me preguntaba cuántas veces se ha descongelado y vuelto a congelar. También hemos tenido algunos problemas de estómago con alimentos y bacterias como salmonelas antihigiénico. No voy a comprar cualquiera de cerdo de los locales, a menos que yo las conozco y ver cómo se cortan y almacenan la carne. Otra cosa que nunca hacemos es beber la leche cruda. Una vez, mi marido bebió leche cruda procedente de la vecina y fue hospitalizado durante 2 días.
      Creo que Pali será bueno para la isla y ayudará a las empresas locales a mejorar su comercialización, así como sus condiciones sanitarias.

  8. I greatly admire your ability to find the positive in WallyWorld coming to your neighborhood. Keep an eye on them. In the global sense, I find competition a good thing. In the micro sense, when WalMart shows up in your town, my understanding is that it is rare to find lasting benefits for the community. .Buena suerte!

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Saabseir. I am going to keep a good eye on Pali and how it impacts the other grocery stores on the island. Right now, I am optimistically hopeful because prices for food have never been regulated and I worry about the expiration dates on the foods and the meat that is thawed and refrozen when it arrives on the island.

    • Do you have Pali stores in Ecuador? I don’t remember seeing any. But, I have been to the big grocery store in Portoviejo and you are indeed lucky to have such a fine selection. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you that a big grocery store will move into San Clemente soon. It is a long trip for you.

  9. Interesting to see Wallmart viewed at least partially as an agent of positive change. And not exploiting their employees in Nicaragua, because Nica government would not let them! (Hear that. USA?) Ometepe before Wallmart reminds me of Toledo, the southernmost – and the poorest – part of Belize, mostly inhabited by Maya (Q’eqchi’ and Mopan) and Garifuna.

    Fresh fruit was in abundance as everywhere (I guess) in the tropics. Beans, grains, veggies you could get at the market in Punta Gorda (circa 5000 inhabitants), but Maya women went door t door, too, if you made it a habit to buy from them. No, they had no trucks, just their backs.

    Buying fresh meat there was a no-can-do task, with an exception of fresh chickens and pork from the villagers (if they knew you, or knew someone you knew and you shopped through these intermediaries. Ocasionally you could get a gibnut that way, too, called there the Royal Rat, as queen Elisabeth was treated to it during her visit to Belize.

    Milk and cheese I was able to order a delivery of from another part of Belize, and I had to freeze it. Butter was a rarity, too, sometimes sold in tin cans, from Australia!

    Bread did not exist, not even the English cottony abomination of it.

    So I ate out at least once a day, as the small local restaurants had good stuff – interesting for the taste buds, fresh, filling and inexpensive. And if I had a long weekend I could take a puddle jumper airplane and hop to Placentia, with its fancy restaurants catering to more loaded tourists and expats.

    • Marie, your description is fascinating. It reminds me of Ometepe Island 12 years ago. We had to go to the mainland for almost everything. I never heard of a gibnut. Does it taste like a guinea pig?
      I think we are really fortunate to see so much progress on Ometepe Island. We have at least 6 ATMs, lots of banks, restaurants, retail and furniture stores, and rental places for motorcycles and ATVs. We rarely have to leave the island anymore.
      Thanks for your description. I am going to go look up a gibnut. 🙂

      • Well, I never ate a guinea pig, so I can’t tell if it tastes similar. Gibnut looks like a cross between a giant rat and a small pig. Tastes, to me, more like wild pig than an ordinary pig, thus, more interesting than ordinary pork. Last time I was working – and living – in southern Belize was 4 years ago. I wonder if in another 8 years it will look like Ometepe now. Somehow I doubt it, but … who knows?

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