LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
It's a big back-to-school shopping week, and Texas stores are having their annual tax-free weekend. And usually, retailers in El Paso get a lot of business from people just over the border in Mexico. But after the recent mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart, fewer shoppers want to make the trip. From El Paso, Houston Public Media's Andrew Schneider reports.
ANDREW SCHNEIDER, BYLINE: El Paso is uniquely situated. From the main highway, you can see straight into Mexico. The economies of El Paso and its sister Ciudad Juarez are intertwined, meaning that local retailers in El Paso depend heavily on cross-border shopping. University of Texas at El Paso economist Tom Fullerton studies the region known locally as the borderplex.
TOM FULLERTON: In any given year, anywhere between 8% and 14% of total retail sales go to residents from northern Mexico.
SCHNEIDER: This mall, called The Fountains at Farah, is not far from the Walmart where the shooting took place. Lisa Vasquez out school shopping with her son is thinking about that but isn't overly concerned.
LISA VASQUEZ: I don't think that would happen, like, again. I don't think that would happen with people from here from El Paso. So I'm not worried about that.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SCHNEIDER: On the west side of the city, outlet shops are doing brisk business, too. Bridget Sheets is here shopping with her children.
BRIDGET SHEETS: I think law enforcement does a really good job. El Paso's always been a safe place. Things happen, and it just so happened that that circumstance happened here in El Paso.
SCHNEIDER: It appears many residents on this side of the border are going on with their back-to-school shopping as normal. But Tom Fullerton says for shoppers from across the border, it's a different challenge.
FULLERTON: The traffic that would normally materialize from Ciudad Juarez and is probably going to be reduced is going to remain at home and purchase the items they would purchase here in El Paso from shopping centers in Ciudad Juarez.
SCHNEIDER: Even at this early date, Fullerton estimates that the shooting could cost retailers in El Paso more than $10 million because of those reluctant to cross the bridge. He arrives at that number by citing previous security concerns.
FULLERTON: Several years back, unfortunately, Ciudad Juarez was going through a period of heightened narcotics-related violence and narcotics-related homicides. And back in those days, for every additional two homicides, there was a loss of about $1 million in retail activity.
SCHNEIDER: Twenty-two homicides equals $11 million. At the height of Juarez's narco violence, many Mexican shoppers flocked to the safety of El Paso. Now, it's El Paso that looks more dangerous.
FULLERTON: This is likely to be a temporary change in customer visitation patterns from northern Mexico and El Paso.
SCHNEIDER: Fullerton says El Paso's economy as a whole should be able to absorb the hit, but it will be a hard blow for individual retailers who depend heavily on back-to-school sales. Add to that recurring long lines at the border crossing and the weakness of the peso, and that may further discourage Mexican shoppers in the coming months. For NPR News, I'm Andrew Schneider in El Paso.