After 40 years in business, Roberto Garza and his wife Bertha have seen a lot and withstood it all.
They've survived peso devaluations, recessions and border closings, but the 15-month ban on nonessential visitors crossing into the United States has taken a toll on the couple's downtown Laredo, Texas, store, decimating their bottom line.
"About 50, 60% less," Garza said when asked about the financial hit his store has incurred.
So, how does he stay afloat?
"Changes. We cut expenses. Even our own life," he said.
While Garza’s life has changed, commercial traffic hasn’t. The train tracks in Laredo remain busy as the railcars make their daily journey over the river between the U.S and Mexico. The same goes for the trucks because in Laredo commerce is good and trade continues to thrive.
Teclo Garcia is Laredo’s director of economic development and he’s quick to point out that the city itself hasn’t really been affected by the pandemic.
“Our commercial traffic didn’t see much of a dip at all because trade continued to move as if it were 2019," said Garcia.
Sadly, the people who have felt the brunt of the ban are the locals. Because if you’re not deemed essential, the country is closed.
“Anybody who’s lived in Texas, close to any border knows that when you live in a border community, you’re essentially living in two countries," Garcia said. "You’ve got family and friends and favorite restaurants and stores on both sides of the border. One side of their world has been completely shut off.”
So, when will it end? When can everyone travel across the bridge and shop or eat or walk the streets of this once-bustling city?
The Department of Homeland Security says the restrictions will end soon, but for Garza it’s just the same old song and dance he’s heard before.
“Every month they say the same thing: 'The 21st of next month.' Yeah, I heard that. Definitely next month. The 21st of next month," Garza said.
Garza's frustrated to see and hear the trains and trucks all day, every day. Yet his traffic remains minimal.
“People are flying in and you got thousands of truckers coming in every day. It’s kind of hard to understand that. Why? I don’t know why," Garza said.
So he waits, hopeful that this will all be over soon.
“The Mexicans, once they open the bridge? They will come," he says.
Maybe even this month on the 21st.