An American suburb in Mexico

Yesterday, growing a bit restless at the ranch despite the spectacular weather, Stew and I drove to Querétaro, to check what the hubbub surrounding the grand opening of an HEB supermarket was all about.

And a hubbub it was. HEB’s extra large parking lot was packed, and there were at least a dozen cars waiting to get in by the exit ramp off the highway. The shopping frenzy no doubt was abetted by a series of billboards lining the expressway into Querétaro.

Stew and I looked at each other and said “Screw it,” or perhaps something stronger, and drove by to the quite dowdy Superama down the road, next to the equally dowdy and smallish Home Depot.

As we were leaving, Stew observed that it’s getting harder to tell Querétaro apart from a suburb of Chicago.

If the Querétaro HEB is anything like the chain’s stores in Texas, the hubbub may be well deserved, though I’d have to check it with my own eyes first.

HEB’s around San Antonio are some of the best grocery stores Stew and I have ever seen. For one thing, whoever is charge of HEB marketing is keen enough to tailor each store to the neighborhood.

One new store is designed to look like something out of the 60’s; another’s facade is done in an art deco style compatible with similar buildings in the neighborhood; and one downtown, near a bumper crop of apartment and condo buildings, is a small grocery store offering made-to-order pizzas, frozen dinners and other survival foods for the millenials within walking distance.

A space-age HEB in San Antonio

The Queen Mary of HEBs in San Antonio, though, is one called Central Market, a vast operation that will sell you loose tea from some corner of India or cheese from Macedonia. A team of older ladies wander around ready to help you navigate the maze of shelves, counters and products.

The joint is so huge it’s actually disconcerting, unless your epicurean whims cannot be satisfied elsewhere.

For a brief tour of HEB store designs in San Antonio, check this site.

The new HEB in Querétaro, reportedly the first of three stores in the city, is surrounded by so many American-brand stores, it leaves you wondering if you’re in Mexico anymore: Chuck E. Cheese, Carl’s Jr., Dairy Queen, Denny’s, IHOP, Buffalo Wild Wings, and on and on. And on.

And if you need to have your Harley Screaming Eagle motorbike serviced, there’s a Harley-Davidson dealer around the corner—its parking lot always buzzing with leather-clad Harley aficionados—and a Tony Roma’s steakhouse down the road with some baby back ribs to munch on while you wait.

And yet, after years of kvetching and pining about things we missed from the States, I’m not sure I like Querétaro’s lightning transformation from a mid-size colonial city into a traffic-clogged suburban jungle that puts you back in Dallas or Chicago.

But I must confess too that if the new HEB can smuggle in some of those Texas peaches or watermelons, I’ll be first in line to get some—and promise to shut up about the Americanization of Mexico.

NB: Directions to HEB. Get on Hwy 111 toward Queretaro and get off at the Juriquilla exit, onto the service road. Then watch for the ACCESO A HEB sign on the right. That’s the entrance to the parking lot. You might want to try it during a weekday to avoid the mobs. 

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