- Associated Press - Monday, September 19, 2011

MEXICO CITY For 30 years, Estela Moran has sold almost every edible part of a cow at her meat stand in a neighborhood market. The sale of tripe, feet, tongue and prime beef has put three of her sons through college.

But all is not well at Gascasonica, the small market in a lower-class Mexico City neighborhood where Ms. Moran works.

Several stands are vacant. Others are used just for storage. Ms. Moran said her sales have declined gradually as U.S.-style supermarkets have flourished.

Across from her post, other meat sellers haven’t been at the market in days.

“I don’t know where they are,” the 60-year-old Ms. Moran said as she packed leftover meat in plastic bags. “I’ll be here selling until I get sick or I can’t do it anymore. We don’t earn much, but it’s a living. I have customers that depend on me.”

Mexico City’s neighborhood markets - the rowdy, smelly, vibrant landmarks of concrete and corrugated tin that sell everything from cactus salads to pinatas - are struggling as more Mexicans migrate to the relatively more orderly, cleaner, air-conditioned and foreign-owned supermarkets.

Shoppers say supermarkets have easier access, have a wider variety of items and are safer.

“I know that by coming here we’re making a foreign company richer and the market vendors poorer,” said 57-year-old Maria Teresa Hernandez as she left her local Wal-Mart with bags full of chocolate, juices and underwear. “But they have everything here.”

Others, however, say the abundant offering of fresh fruits and produce at low prices is what keeps them going back to the local markets.

Most of the markets, like Gascasonica, were built 50 years ago and have not aged gracefully. A city government survey showed recently that 200 of the 318 markets need urgent repairs to their plumbing and electrical wiring.

More troubling for the more than 70,000 vendors is a steady decline in sales.

Once a staple of this megacity’s daily life, the markets sold 80 percent of the city’s groceries in the 1950s and ‘60s compared with 30 percent now, according to the city’s Office of Economic Development.

A 2002 study by the National Autonomous University of Mexico estimated that sales had declined nearly 60 percent over a decade.

Nearly 10 years later, university professor Gerardo Torres Salcido said sales have dropped even further.

“There are markets that are basically dead,” said Guadalupe Loaeza, a columnist for the daily Reforma newspaper and an author who has chronicled Mexican life. “Many are in bad conditions. There are rats and leaks. I remember many years ago, no one went to the supermarkets. Now everyone goes to them.”

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