BROWNSVILLE, Texas (ValleyCentral) — In less than a month land borders will reopen across the Rio Grande Valley. It is a glimmer of hope for a small business owner, who is cautiously optimistic about the future.
Of the 14 fabric shops that once operated in the downtown Brownsville area, El Conquistador is the only one remaining open.
“Business is good because of competition,” store owner Juan Kenigstein said. “But there’s no competition and there’s no business.”
Kenigstein told ValleyCentral he sees roughly 20 customers per day. It is a sharp decline from the more than 100 he had seen pre-pandemic.
“It’s been very difficult,” he said. “We’ve been down 70 to 80 percent.”
After more than 19 months of being closed, land borders linking the United States and Mexico are finally reopening for leisure travel.
For small business owners like Kenigstein, it is the saving grace needed to remain open.
A large portion of people who visit his downtown store come from Mexico. Many cross the Gateway International Bridge daily to shop and eat in the area.
Kenigstein said, his store briefly closed due to COVID-19, but he eventually reopened to sell fabric, so people could make masks, but, “it stopped, everybody started making masks … and they make the disposable ones,” Kenigstein said.
Congressman Henry Cuellar said constant pressure on the Biden Administration led to the reopening.
“They had to understand that this was important to our economy,” Cuellar said. “How do you lose $19 billion from the Mexicans that were coming over and shopping?, and that doesn’t include what the Canadians were spending.”
It is welcome news for Kenigstein whose family business has been a part of the community for the past 50 years.
“It will help our business [and] we will be able to provide more labor, and we’ll be able to be here for another 50 years, hopefully,” he said.
After nearly two years of closed land borders, Kenigstein said he fears some shoppers may not return.
“They got used to buying things in Mexico, they might not buy the same things here. Maybe a few will, but not all of them,” he said.
White House officials said border travel restrictions will be lifted on Nov. 8, for fully vaccinated people.
“That will really help,” Kenigstein said.” But I will believe it when I see it.”