Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Scanners come to Bodega Gloria

I had to walk home in the rain last week, because technology’s tentacles had reached Copan Ruinas.
I buy fruit and vegetables in the town market, a two-storey structure open to the sky, or sometimes from the people who park trucks full of fruit or other goods outside. (Though not from the guy with the live chickens in the back of his pickup, with a chicken wire lid to block escapes.) 
And Bodega Gloria is my main store for staples. It’s as close as we come to a supermarket. 
There’s no real rival. Commercial Cruz Bueso is almost as large, but sells clothes and cowboy hats and foam mattresses along with food staples.
Commercial Victoria was a contender, but it’s gone in a new direction, with stock that seem bought off late-night infomercials. There is actually an inflatable sled for sale, and hand warmers, those little chemical packets that generate heat while you wait to kill ducks. The temperature has never dipped below 20 degrees since we’ve been here.
Bodega Gloria is not big. Three aisles. One with cleaning stuff. One mostly cookies and candies, and pasta. The middle aisle has chips and such, non-refrigerated milk, oil and capers and other essentials and a spotty alcohol section. (The boast “Mexico’s best selling box wine” does not guarantee drinkability, even at $4 a litre.) In the back, there’s a big floor freezer full of unwrapped chicken parts and wall coolers with packaged meats and cheese and, sometimes, yoghurt. Gloria, if there is such a person, has added a meat counter in the last month. The chorizo is great.
Until last week, the process was simple. You picked your stuff, and one of the keen young staff tallied it up on a cheap calculator. You handed the money over, and the clerk took it to the woman who ruled the cash. She looked up from her newspaper or cellphone, made the correct change and it was counted, then passed to you. On good days, she smiled at you, in a Mona Lisa kind of way.
It wasn’t brilliantly efficient. Sometimes, a small woman from a pueblo in the hills would be buying vast amounts of staples, and need a hand-written receipt - factura - either because she was buying for the community, or her own pulperia. 
But it worked, sort of. There was a problem with inventory management. Any time yoghurt is in the coolers, I buy three containers, because it can mysteriously disappear for weeks. The pop cooler can be full of Diet Cokes one day, and sit empty and rusting for two weeks. I’m used to hoarding.
The registers
A couple of months ago, Gloria installed a couple of counters with cash registers and barcode scanners, but no one has used them until now. But one day last week, the bodega was closed for inventory. The next day, hesitant cashiers were scanning my half-dozen purchases, most of which weren’t in the system. It took so long I ended up walking home in the afternoon rain, which arrives about 2:30 these days.
It’s been almost a week, and I’m not sure how the experiment is going. When the two cashiers are busy - fairly often give the campesino bulk buying - you dump your stuff on a vacant counter, the calculator comes out and you hand over the cash. That seems to undermine inventory control.
Retailing, like everything else, is different in Honduras. When I lived in Montreal, I was amazed that every block in the older neighbourhoods had one or two depanneurs - marginal, small grocery-variety stores that served maybe 40 families in the adjacent three-story walk-up apartments with their outside iron stairways.
But pulperias, the Honduran equivalent, are way more common. Sometimes three in a block, set up in what would have been the front room of the house. A somewhat cynical long-term expat said that ,if nothing else, the pulperias let families get goods at wholesale price for their relatives. And if there is no other work, making a few dollars a day selling chips and coffee and plantains to the people on the block is worthwhile, especially as people with little money tend to buy just enough for the next meal. (The same is true for restaurants. In the next block, there were four places selling balleadas and chicken and basic meals. Another one opened this week.)
All things considered, I prefer Honduras shopping to a North American mall full of stuff I don’t want, in stores that look the same. (Though the big cities here have quite lavish malls, with the same overpriced brands.)
Not always, of course, Our electric toothbrush conked out, probably the victim of the erratic power supply here. Finding a replacement anywhere within three hours is unlikely. And I’m still baffled that in our hunt for small household appliances we walked past the tiny sign for Zapateria’s Faby - Faby’s Shoestore - a dozen times before someone told us the store had actually moved into selling household goods, motorcycles and more several years ago, but never changed the name or the sign.
I don’t know how the new registers are going to work out at Bodega Gloria. But if it means they’ll run out of yoghurt less often, I’m rooting for them.

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