El Paso, a diverse community at the western tip of Texas, surges with entrepreneurial spirit and idiosyncratic charm. On a 48-hour shopping spree that zigzagged across the city, we explored mercados and mom-and-pops for retail treasures unavailable anywhere else.
El Paso is a Texas city like no other. Located at the state’s westernmost point, the Sun City of 674,000 people is an eight-hour drive from San Antonio—but it’s only a bridge crossing from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Buoyed by culture, history, and a vanguard of young entrepreneurs, the city’s retail outlets teem with local flavor. From mercado to boutique, we spent 48 hours in search of that perfect piece of El Paso to take home.
Rising early, we drove to the Kern Place entertainment district, which clusters at Mesa Street and Cincinnati Avenue near the University of Texas at El Paso.
There, we ate breakfast at Crave Kitchen & Bar, a hip restaurant owned by a trio of young locals. With its eclectic, contemporary American cuisine, the menu has won several awards and spawned a second location in East El Paso.
Filled up on croque-madame, we drove downtown to South El Paso Street, where tightly packed storefronts overflow with fantastically cheap goods. The historic area, a bustling center for decades, is a one-two wallop of commerce and culture.
The rows of shops create an open-air mercado vibe that draws both El Pasoans and Juarenses; the latter cross into the United States on the Santa Fe Bridge, just blocks away. Clothes hang from awnings like overgrown vegetation, while customers hover over everything from toys to perfumes, flowers, and school supplies.
Bagging our loot, we ambled up El Paso Street to Tricky Falls, a concert venue with a second-floor bar named Bowie Feathers.
Both businesses roost in a Moorish revival-style building that dates to 1914 and was designed by local architect Henry Trost. The nightspots contribute to a new civic energy, a wave of entrepreneurship that harnesses the city’s rich past.
Indeed, history shows up in surprising ways downtown. We crossed the street to Dave’s Pawn Shop to see a severed finger rumored to belong to Pancho Villa, on sale for nearly $10,000. The quirky store, guarded by a statue of Elvis Presley, captivated us with its oddball mix of the mundane and the bizarre. For your taxidermy fix, this is the spot.
We admired the museum district and El Paso’s new Triple-A baseball stadium while taking the long way to Union Plaza, a mixed-use development haven.
Our destination was Manchot, a store full of quirky-cool novelty items and creations by at least 15 area artisans. Our yield included a sugar skull makeup bag by Lalo Élan Jewelry and a shirt by Tasty Ts bearing the words “Hecho en Chuco”—Spanish/local slang for “Made in El Paso.”
In the morning we walked the aisles of Fox Plaza flea market, which attracts thousands of customers every Sunday.
The market, near the corner of Paisano Drive and Alameda Avenue, features 350-plus vendors hawking everything from jewelry to food, diapers, car parts, and shoes. It’s a singularity of shopping that can affect your perception of time.
A couple of hours later (OK, maybe it was more like four hours), we were towing prints of Chicano art that we’d scored at the market. We headed east on I-10 to the El Paso Saddleblanket and its vast, two-acre storeroom of Southwestern items. Our spoils: a serape and a pair of sweet-looking baja hoodies.
Tuckered, we drove to Chico’s Tacos, a family-owned chain of restaurants famous for its signature dish: rolled tacos sprinkled with shredded cheese and drowned in tomato sauce. As we feasted, we talked about the previous day’s visit to Manchot.
The Fountains at Farah, a big-box retail center in East El Paso, has ultra-local foundations. Literally, its physical location was once the site of the main factory of Farah, Inc., a garment company that at its peak was the second-largest employer in El Paso.