On Wednesday morning, a Facebook user published a photo in a popular Nogales social media group, reminding other users that Mexican pesos are no longer accepted at the Walmart on White Park Drive.
Under the post, the user wrote, “So we don’t get in line in vain.”
A similar post circulated on Nov. 7 – the day before the U.S.-Mexico border reopened to nonessential travel.
In Nogales, that reopening brought a flurry of visitors across the line to shop, travel and visit family members. But at Walmart – perhaps the largest shopping destination in town – a few changes had taken place in the meantime, including the store halting its use of Mexican currency.
A member of the leadership team at Walmart on White Park Drive pointed to one reason: the store’s self-checkout machines don’t accept pesos.
The store transitioned to using mostly self-checkout in early 2021. The machines have become a staple for supermarkets across the country, exploding in use amid the COVID-19 pandemic as businesses scrambled to cut down on face-to-face interaction.
At the Nogales Walmart, those self-checkout kiosks accept cards and mobile pay. Some, though not all, typically accept cash. Pesos, however, are not recognized.
For some, that change is another barrier in a shopping trip that already crosses an international border.
‘We couldn’t shop’
Brian, the Facebook user who posted a picture of the sign Wednesday, told the NI he earns his money in pesos, and had attempted a trip to the Walmart in Nogales, Ariz., only to find out about the new rule.
“We couldn’t shop, we had to search for a change house,” he wrote in a message. “And return.”
Brian, who asked to be identified by his first name only, speculated that the new rules could affect travelers who prefer to avoid change houses or banks. He also questioned why a store in a border town wouldn’t acknowledge the peso.
“Both pesos and dollars circulate in other stores,” he wrote.
That’s true for some chain outlets, like Food City – a popular shopping destination for Nogales, Sonora residents. Reached by phone on Wednesday, a Food City representative said the store accepts peso bills, but not peso coins. When staff receive too many coins, she explained, someone has to cross into Mexico to exchange them for U.S. currency.
Despite the dollars-only policy at Walmart, the store’s parking lot was filled with cars Wednesday afternoon, many of them adorned with Sonora plates.
Emerging from one of those cars, Juan Antonio headed toward the store’s entrance. He told the NI the new policy hasn’t been too impactful for him: he makes it a point to change some of his pesos to American dollars before crossing from Sonora into Arizona.
Still, he added, there’s the problem shoppers might face when running out of dollars during their Arizona shopping trips.
“That limits us sometimes,” he said, of buying extra items.
Needless to say, the sprawling Walmart in Nogales, Sonora continues to accept pesos. But, Antonio said, there’s an advantage to shopping at the one in Arizona: “There are some more varied things here, than at the Walmart in Mexico.”
Changes for change houses
On Thursday afternoon, a customer walked into the Kayro Casa de Cambio, a money exchange service on Mariposa Road.
“Good afternoon,” he told Carlos Covarrubias, who stood behind a layer of plexiglass. “Do you have dollars?”
For Covarrubias, the border’s reopening has created more movement for his business.
When asked whether the shift in Walmart’s policy has helped funnel more customers into his change house, Covarrubias pointed out that various money exchange services exist in both Arizona and Sonora. Any uptick in business from Walmart shoppers, he guessed, would be split between the many change houses.
“It’s distributed,” he explained.
Either way, he said he’s noticed a flow of customers coming from Mexico – a far cry from the difficult months when foot traffic dwindled in the shopping center at the height of the pandemic.
December 2020, in particular, was desolate – “very difficult,” Covarrubias remembered.
“But thank God, it got better,” he added. “It got better.”