LIVING / Stoplight Entrepreneurs

Stoplight Entrepreneurs

Stoplight Entrepreneurs

12 May 2006 LIVING 11

The last time we traveled back to California, we found ourselves sitting at a stoplight in our car and feeling rather thirsty. We were suddenly struck by the absence of something we have come to expect and even appreciate here in Mexico: the stoplight entrepreneurs. We were reminded how, during our initial roadtrip from California to the Yucatan, we were amazed at the level of entrepreneurship in Mexico. Everywhere we went, we were surrounded by small, smaller and even the tiniest of businesses. There are of course the ever-present cocinas economicas, the little restaurants with three or four tables that serve just two or three meal choices during the middle of the day. There are the tendejons, the corner stores, long since replaced in the States by 7-11's. There are the door-to-door salesmen, offering everything from potting soil to handmade brooms and furniture to frozen shimp. And everywhere, there are people selling you things at los semáforos, the stoplights.

We thought it might be interesting to list all the things that we are offered here in Merida while we sit in our car waiting for the light to change. Here is a partial list:

  • Newspapers
  • Bags of fruit (especially the native and locally grown fruits like mamey, pitaya and others)
  • Soft drinks and fruit juices
  • Agua de Coco (coconut water... so refreshing on those hot days!)
  • Maps of Merida
  • Mexican flags (especially around independence day)
  • Firecrackers and sparklers
  • Flowers
  • Clean windshields (ubiquitous in Mexico... and the ones in Mexico City are by far the best. They can clean your windshield in ten seconds flat and they do a good job too. We never turn down the opportunity for a clean windshield).
  • Tortas (Mexican-style sandwiches)
  • Plastic inflatable toys
  • Pay-as-you-go Telcel phone cards (called fichas)
  • The chance to assuage your guilt for driving a car: donate to Cruz Roja (Red Cross) or any number of other worthy charities.
  • Hand-carved miniature baseball bats
  • Various statuettes, masks and other mementos (especially popular around Chichen Itza)
  • Elotes (cooked ears of corn) packaged with chile powder
  • Cut up mangos, papayas, jicama, cucumber, oranges and other thirst-quenching fruits and veggies, also with chile powder
  • Live birds in tiny handmade cages

At a really good long stoplight, a driver might be offered three or four of these items by various sellers walking up and down the line of cars. In more rural parts of the Yucatan and Mexico, entrepreneurs even go so far as to create topes by putting thick ropes in the road, causing drivers to slow down and thereby creating their own selling opportunity.

And then there are the performers. Clowns are the most popular form of entertainment. They step in front of the stopped line of cars, dressed in the most outrageous costumes, and always with a red nose. They juggle for 30 seconds, and then they dart between the cars to collect their reward.

We would guess there are no laws against soliciting money from automobile drivers. We would also guess that some corners are better than others and must be hotly contested or defended. Various corners in Merida seem to have the same people there, day in and out, for months or years.

Maybe someday we'll expand our business this way. It seems like you could sell nearly anything at a stoplight: low overhead, high customer traffic, captive audience. Hmmm... Oye, Señor! Tu quisieras una página web?


  • CasiYucateco 14 years ago

    To "Mr/Ms ..." who left the comment above about child labor and police harassment:

    I just want to say that yes, in many parts of Mexico (or the whole world for that matter) you will find children on the corners, it is not that common in Yucatan. Most of the stoplight workers are adults, trying to supplement their incomes. And, more often than not, the Yucatecan police visit politely or even hang out a bit with the stoplight workers.

    So, overall, I'm just saying that was a generalized statement and the situations you describe do not appear to be happening very often in Merida. Mexico City, on the other hand, is a totally different story.

    Yes, of course there are poor people in Yucatan. But in most cases, it is not the grinding, desperate, extreme poverty found in other places. And, it just seems to me, the police are more polite and more honest than most other places I've been in the world... including the USA.

  • Working Gringos 14 years ago

    Hola, Ursula...
    Finding a job here as an expat is VERY difficult, as Mexico would like to employ Mexicans whenever possible. However, there are many business opportunities. And we think that a home healthcare service for English-speaking residents here will be a good business in the future.

    As for the ferry, it ran once. It stopped years ago, and rumours have abounded since then that it will be restarting any minute. We advise you not to hold your breath.

  • ursula sunquist 14 years ago

    i have now been sitting at my computer for 6 hours reading everything i can about merida. We took a cruise 2 years ago and did an excursion into merida and liked what we saw. My question is , how difficult is it to get into mexico and possible find a job? I am a registered nurse, reading about the healthcare makes me wonder if there is an opportunity for american nurses? Anybody with any suggestions? Also I heard something about a ferry from tampa to progresso

  • Malcolm 15 years ago

    That clown you have pictured haunts my dreams. He hits me each and every time I drive through Progreso, and I want him to stop.

  • 1st Mate 16 years ago

    The entrepreneur we're always looking for is the fellow selling dulce de leche de cabra -- goat's milk candy! Here in Sonora it's not hard to find it made with leche de vaca, but the goat's milk candy has that flavor we love. Once a salesman in Hermosillo sold us a whole block of it at a traffic island and ever since we've been looking for the "candyman" to buy more. If you've seen him, send him to San Carlos, we'll make him an hombre rico!

  • ... 16 years ago

    You do realise that's "informal job" and often child labor? "Informals" have no social security and are subject to extorsion from the police. IMHO it's more survival than entrepreneurship.

  • Robyne 16 years ago

    Stumbled on your I am definitely going to visit Yucatan!

  • yucateco 17 years ago

    I've just found ur site and I'm loving it!!! I'm from Mérida (Yucatán), but i'm in Spain "studying", and u are making me remember all those beautiful things that yucatán have! I feel so happy about all your commments... 'cause i think that the foreigner people really appreciate the beautiful things in other places...
    now i miss all this yucatan things, and i'm sure that i'll enjoy all of those when i back to my land. thanks!
    p.s. sorry for my english!

  • Working Gringos 17 years ago

    Fruitvale sounds wonderful...wonder if they have pitaya there? A client who was just in the office says pitaya season is upon us and promises to bring us a few next week. We'll take some photos for y'all to see. When God invented pitaya, She was doing Her thesis in graphic design. Confoundingly beautiful.

    Last time we were in the States, we stopped in Oxnard at a Mexican grocery store. We walked in and felt right at home. All the signs were in Spanish, everyone who worked there was from Mexico and cochinita was on the menu. It was also a little taste of home. The girl who rang us up wistfully told us she was from Chiapas and missed it terribly.

  • kimba 17 years ago

    Ahhhh! Next time you are in the Bay Area and missing Mexico, take a cruise through the Fruitvale neighborhood in Oakland. That's my old neighbohood and I miss the corner taco trucks, the tiny taquerias, and the tinkle of the ice carts being pushed around the neighborhood. It's one neighborhood in the Bay Area where city rules and regulations do not apply :)

  • Billie 17 years ago

    We have never been able to find Pitaya anywhere except in Yucatan. Most of the time no one knows what you are talking about....even in Mexico.....only in Yucatan.
    Muy delicioso.

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