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Zinnia Blog
02.05

Mexico City Travel Basics 2: Shopping for Folk Art

Posted by Anne Damon in Mexico City



Shopping in Mexico City
In my first Mexico City Travel Basics post, you might have noticed something missing: shopping. Rest assured, the omission wasn’t an oversight—I just wanted to dedicate a whole post to the multi-faceted shopping landscape of the capital city. There’s a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get started. ¡Vamanos!

 

Shopping in Mexico City can be divided categorically: markets (mercados) and boutiques. I shop in both because I’m always looking for new, interesting pieces and twists on traditional motifs. Luckily, there’s almost always something fresh to be found—new market vendors pop up as quickly as do new independent shops.


Because I go to Mexico City at least three times every year, I’ve built a network of “regulars” and I often go to people’s homes, studios and workshops, in addition to markets, museum shops and indie boutiques. I don’t buy from wholesalers (in the sense that we know them here) or from trade shows, which are generally full of mass-produced artesanías—that’s not what I’m after. Because I was a collector for so long and traveled so frequently to Mexico before I started Zinnia, I know where to look for specific types of folk art and I know the names of the most famous artisans, so I start with them. I also have a pretty well trained eye—developed over years of thrifting—so when I'm walking through markets, my radar is tuned to discover interesting, unusual objects such as protecciones.


But even without a background or connections like mine, you can find some real gems in Mexico City. You just need to know where to look, what you like and which shopping strategies to use, and I’ve crafted this post to give you the knowledge you’ll need.

Victor's Arte Popular


Where To Shop

My focus is, of course, on folk art, and these are some of my favorite places to find it:

  • Victor Artes Populares: This family-run business, started in the 1950s, recently relocated to Isabel la Catolica. It takes a bit of know-how to get in (it’s unmarked, save for a small sign in a window, and you need to knock on the big wooden door), but inside you’ll find a treasure trove of masterfully crafted folk arts. The owner and folk art expert, Pilar Fosado, does not speak English.
  • Tienda del Museo de Arte Popular: The retail arm of the Museum of Folk Art, also known as Tienda MAP, goes well beyond your average museum trinket corner. At its three Mexico City locations (in Polanco and Centro Historico as well as at the airport—there’s also a branch in San José del Cabo), you can find high-quality folk art from across the country. Prices are higher here (as they are in virtually all museum shops) but it’s a well-curated selection—helpful if you’re prone to feeling overwhelmed by choices or you want to see very high quality folk art. And don't forget to visit the museum--it's stellar and free on Sundays.
  • Fonart: These government-operated folk art stores used to be much more common around the country, but now the number of shops is greatly reduced. The quality of the merchandise varies a lot and sometimes I am really disappointed, but it's always worth a try. Even if you don’t choose to shop here, it’s a good place to get an understanding of general prices and to see the wide variety of goods that artisans are producing from all over Mexico.
  • Mercado de la Ciudadela: If a more bustling shopping environment is more your taste, set your compass to this artisan market. You’ll find all kinds of goods here, from papel picado and papier maché to textile goods, ceramics and more.This market is more similar to an artisans market in the coastal vacation regions. Lots of junk but an occasional find.
  • Bazar Sabado: On Saturdays in the San Angel barrio, this charming market is held in a beautiful colonial courtyard and plaza. It is yet another place to dive into Mexico’s wealth of folk art and handcrafted goods, but it’s also a great place to just soak up the charming atmosphere—and you can grab a cerveza and some quesadillas after you shop up an appetite.
  • La Lagunilla Sunday Thieves Market: Shoppers who love the thrill of the hunt, this is the place for you. While Lagunilla is actually a huge covered market, on Sundays antique dealers and other vendors set up as part of a “thieves” market—don’t take that term too literally, even though there are indeed stalls selling pirated goods. Those willing to search can uncover truly unique vintage treasures.

What To Buy

Mexico City is one of the largest cities in the world and, as such, it has a large number of artisans making traditional folk art. They are not as obvious or easy for the casual traveler to find as they are in Oaxaca or Michoacán, but they are there! Some of the things that Mexico City artisans are best known for are papier maché (papel mache or cartonería) figures of all types, especially for Day of the Dead, Judas figures, nicho boxes and Mazahua jewelry. Some shops (Museo de Arte Popular) feature folk artists from all over the country, some markets have artisans (Ciudadela) from certain regions (Oaxaca or Michoacán or Guerrero) as well as Mexico City artisans.


Shopping Tips

*Change your U.S. dollars to Mexican pesos and shop using that. You’ll likely benefit from the exchange rate and it’s more convenient for the seller—and you’re not going to run into anyone who doesn’t accept pesos.


*A calculator is a handy tool to help you convert prices from pesos to dollars. Not sure of the exchange rate? Apps such as the currency converter offered by XE.com give you up-to-the-minute rates. Be aware that using apps will incur data charges. It’s a good idea to check them in the morning before you leave your hotel’s wifi connection and go out into the city.


*In restaurants or boutiques, bargaining or haggling is not done. Some shops have signs that say prices are not negotiable, and it’s disrespectful to try to finagle a lower price.


*Remember that shopping Mexico City is different from Mexico’s more common tourist areas, including Puerto Vallarta, Cancun and so on. In those areas, vendors often inflate prices because they know that some tourists want to bargain. Mexico City is less touristy, so expectations are not the same.


*Personally, I’m not comfortable bargaining with artisans, especially in their homes, workshops, market stalls or other settings. Most artisans are extremely reasonable and prices reflect the amount of labor and expertise that goes into creating a piece of artwork. More than anything, they’re pleased to sell their work to someone who appreciates it.


*The only time I might ask for a discount is when I’m buying a lot of one thing. But in that case, I might not even have to ask—artisans are savvy enough to know that a little price reduction on a bulk purchase makes for a happy customer.


Where do you like to shop in Mexico City?




Related Posts

  • Thank you Feliz! I’m so glad you went to Mexico City. I think it’s an incredible place and I love it when people agree with me! Saludos, Anne

    Posted by Anne on April 09, 2016
  • Nice article and great tips! I was just in Mex City and indeed visited the San Angel (lovely area) market and Thieves market… both highly recommended. I concur with your advice… I found this area of Mexico (as apposed to Pto Vallarta) to be very reasonable to handcrafts and I agree ethically/morally in paying what these people ask. Eager to read more of your blog :)

    Posted by Feliz on April 09, 2016
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