Discuenta: Shopping Smart in Oaxaca

Hay una discuenta? Is there a discount? I often ask, and find that a shop keeper could offer from 10-20% discount if I pay with cash and don’t use a credit card. Credit cards are a hassle for shops because the charge for their use fluctuates with the daily exchange rate and it takes them a while to get their money. So, you have a lot more leverage with cash. Bargaining is expected in market stalls, especially at Abastos and Benito Juarez markets in Oaxaca city, or at the outdoor street vendor mall on Abasolo just off of Macedonio Alcala in the Santo Domingo neighborhood. In the markets you can start at 30% less than what is asked and see how flexible the seller is. Remember, that handwoven and handmade articles take a lot of time, and even without a discount, the price is well worth the labor, quality and materials. I often will determine the quality first, and then decide whether and how much I want to ask for a discuenta.

The “elegance trade-off.” There are many beautiful shops with fantastic crafts in and around the galleria walking mall of Macedonia Alcala. I love to visit Silvia Suarez at her shop, Malacate, on Avenida Gurrion. She is an elegant young woman and talented textile designer who has a flair for choosing the very best huipils and other textile art. It is an aesthetic experience to visit her shop, and prices range from moderate to high-end.

I found fanciful hand-embroidered huipils from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec at good quality and prices at Micaela-Hecho a mano, a shop on the corner of Gurrion and 5 de Mayo (enter from the interior courtyard from 5 de Mayo). There were lots of them priced in the neighborhood of $35 each — a great price, almost comparable to what you would get them for at the market in Juichitan without suffering that excruciating 6 hour curvy-road bus ride over the Sierra Madre del Sur. Michaela buys the embroidered pieces and sews them into blouses herself, thereby passing the savings on to her customers. She also makes fun Milagro necklaces and bracelets — great gifts.

I also like to stop at Librera Grana Purrua and Tally to see if there are any special finds. At El Mano Magico, I say hello to my friend, Alejandra (Ale), who is the shop manager and wife of weaver Tito Mendoza, Arnulfo’s cousin.

A Bargain Discovery. It doesn’t look like much from the street. In fact, it’s hard to see that there’s a shop back there through the courtyard, but my best “find” so far is an artesans cooperative called “Tradiciones Magia y Color Oaxaca.” Address: Macedonio Alcala #201 (enter from the street into a wide courtyard), between Murguia and Av. Morelos. I bought a fabulous hand-loomed cotton huipil dress there with intricate embroidery for $280 USD LESS than at the elegant shops or museum stores. Beautiful rebosos (shawls) hand-loomed in cotton and naturally dyed with embroidery fringes were 30-40% less than at the more elegant shops — for exactly the same item.

On this last trip, a man was sitting on the stone wall in front of Amate Books weaving straw hats from palm. I could tell from the craftsmanship that the quality was superb. Just like a Panama hat that sells for hundreds in the states. Cost: $7.50-10 USD each.

In the villages, you can ask for a discuenta, but remember, the prices are so reasonable, that if you get a 10% discount, this is VERY fair. For example, it can take 40 hours to weave a $300 rug.

Have fun, and keep your eyes open. You never know what you’ll discover next.

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