The Mall del Rio is a modern shopping center located in the south part of Cuenca. We are lucky that the #7 bus route that runs close to our apartment runs between downtown Cuenca and the Mall del Rio. If we take the inbound bus it goes past the huge outdoor market on its way downtown. If we take the outbound bus it is just a short 10 minute ride to the mall. The anchor for the mall is the Coral Hypermercado (hyper market).
When you enter the mall through the entrance nearest the bus stop, you find you are in the food court on the second level of the mall. There are a wide variety of fast food establishments that sell Ecuadorian food. However, for Gringos and others with a taste for American-style food there are two KFCs, and a Burger King. Near the food court is a video game arcade to entertain the younger crowd.
In the center of the mall the was a Bungee Bounce where kid could get strapped into a bungee harness and then bounced up and down in relative safety. On our first visit to the mall we stopped in at the Claro cell phone store to get SIMM cards for our cell phones and purchase some minutes of air time. Here the female technician inserts the SIMM card and then the male technician links our phones into the Claro system. Unfortunately, a few days later the holder for my cell phone fell apart and I lost my cell phone either on the bus or while walking downtown. I immediately went to a store associated with Claro and reported the cell phone as lost or stolen. They locked the old phone out of the system and issued me a new SIMM card with my old phone number. A day or so later I purchased a new cell phone and with the new SIMM card in place, I was back in business. I didn’t even lose the minutes I had paid for! Mind you, I did get some calls from puzzled friends of the person who found my old phone. They were trying to place a call to the old phone, but it was locked out of the system – the call was directed to my new phone. The old phone they had was totally useless.
This is a sign in the Claro shop. Although you can spend hundreds of dollars here on the latest in smart phones, they don’t accept and bills larger than $20. This is typical of Ecuadorian stores and even banks. When you come to Ecuador do not bring $50 or $100 bills or travellers’ cheques in any denominations. They will not be accepted. As with most North American shopping malls, there are lots of clothing stores selling the latest fashions including Lee, Adidas, Nike, etc. However, there are some mall customers who prefer to dress more traditionally.
The mall has a bright airy feel to it with large skylights. Most North American malls are dominated by clothing, shoe and jewellry stores. This mall has a much wider variety of shops including this Yamaha motorcycle dealership. There are many side aisles and passageways in the mall that lead to interesting features such as this elaborate Roman-style fountain.
This shows the two levels of the mall near the entrance to the Coral Hypermercado and, in the second photo, The actual entrance to Coral. As you step inside you realize this is no ordinary supermarket or even a SuperWalmart. There are the usual rack of shopping carts but what about that display of motorcycles for sale!
One of the first sections contains automotive products. There are racks and racks of additives, cleaners, and tools as well as a section dealing with tires and batteries. Not as extensive as the automotive section at Canadian Tire but still quite impressive. Beside the automotive section is the hardware section. The rightmost photo provides a glimpse of the variety of products in this section.
There is a huge selection of power tools available in this section. A much greater selection than Home Depot, Canadian Tire and Princess Auto combined! Many of the tools are professional grade. However, they are not cheap. There is a fairly stiff import tarrif on manufactured goods and so prices are considerably higher than they are in North America. For example, that radial arm saw sells for $3200! The rightmost photo shows some of the many sizes and types of electric motors available here.
There are racks and racks of both hand and power tools. Here is part of their selection of bench vices. They even sell large construction equipment such as this concrete mixer and power trowel. After a hard day of work on a construction project you might want to slip to the plumbing section and relax in a nice whirlpool hot tub.
There are a wide variety of plain and fancy tubs and shower units. There are corner units as well as fancy units that come complete with padded head rests. Their extensive selection of toilets is enough to make Home Depot or Lowes jealous.
They even have a small sized toilet for children. Of course they carry an extensive line of kitchen sinks. Stainless steel sinks with an integral drainboard are not common in North America. However, they are quite common and inexpensive here. A single sink with drainboard is about $70 while a double sink with drainboard is between $104 and $114.
Beside the plumbing section is an extensive display of large appliances. Most homes use gas for cooking, water heating and drying clothes. Gas is generally not piped into houses from a central utility like Centra Gas. It is supplied in cylinders taller and smaller in diameter than those commonly used with gas barbeques in North America. Appliances are somewhat more expensive than they are in North America. Those dishwashers sell for $643 and $534 respectively. Next to the large appliances are the small appliances. They stock a much wider range of models than is commonly found in North American stores. For example, this is their display of slow cookers.
Their selection of electric blenders and frying pans and griddles is much more extensive than in most North American stores. They stock several models and brands of sewing machines. There is a wide selection of electric irons for ironing clothes. They even have an automatic steam pressing machine (above the sewing machines).
Not only is there an extensive selection of consumer-grade small appliances, there are heavy-duty commercial units available as well. The electronics section has a fair selection of High Definition TV sets and accessories. There is a wide selection of boom-box type CD players and radios.
For those who feel that the output from a boom-box is inadequate, amplifiers and large speaker systems are available. If you have a musical talent, you might be interested in one of these acoustic or electric guitars or perhaps in a drum kit.
If you are looking to start a rock group, there are plenty of heavy duty instrument amps and speakers systems to ensure that your sound is loud. If your rock group is mobbed by teenie-boppers, you may need to be carried away on one of these stretchers or gurneys. They even have examining room equipment and a dentist’s chair.
For seniors there is a wide selection of wheelchairs, walkers and canes. A few feet over we come to the bedding section with a vast array of comforters and duvets
They have a good selection of regular and fitted sheets. If you are into sewing or recovering furniture, there is a good selection of upholstery fabrics and textiles next to the bedding. Beside that is a gigantic toy section. Here is a small part of the stuffed toys available.
This is a huge toy section covering thousands of square feet of space. Remember, this is a month after Christmas when most North American retailers are selling off the toys that didn’t sell at Christmas time and are busy downsizing their toy departments. In Coral, this appears to be the normal size of the toy department!
To give you some idea of the size of the toy section, look at the number of aisles devoted just to friction cars (carros fricctión). Next to the toys is a wide selection of table lamps (all priced under $10). Next to that was an aisle of wall clocks. Nearby was a display of grandfather and grandmother clocks.
One whole aisle was devoted to large aquariums and accessories. A short distance away was a large display of artificial flowers and a display of vases for holding them.
There is a large open display area between the two escalators that carry patrons between the main and second floors. Near the bottom of the escalator on the main floor was an island devoted exclusively to flatware (sets of cutlery). Nearby were aisles displaying a wide variety of cookware sets.
There was the obligatory hanging display of kitchen gadgets – but with one difference. There are no rubber spatulas/scrapers to be had. We have hunted all over town. There just aren’t any. There’s a product someone should import and market to all the Gringos. There was a large selection of individual pots and pans ranging in size from very small to large enough for a commercial kitchen. Along the side wall was a display of milk cans. Although most of the milk is ultra-pasteurized (irradiated) and sold in non-refrigerated cartons, raw milk is available at most farmers’ markets. You bring your own milk jug and they fill it up from the large jugs they have brought from the farm. No, we haven’t tried this yet.
The kitchen section in most North American stores stocks a very few types of pressure cookers. This aisle in Coral shows at least fifty different types and sizes of pressure cookers. The next few aisles displayed sets of dishes in plastic, stoneware, Corelle and china. I picked up a couple of the plastic serving bowls because there were none in our “fully-furnished”apartment.
There was a large selection of knickknacks for collectors of salt and pepper shakers and other figurines. Small plastic garbage cans are a hot seller. They sit beside the toilet in every bathroom. Used toilet paper is NOT flushed down the drain as it is in North America. Here it goes into one of those plastic garbage cans and goes out with the trash. There are seemingly endless rows of plasticware. Plastic bowls, pots, ice cube trays, storage containers, etc., etc., etc..
Here is a display of plastic condiment containers and Popsicle makers. The whole section is devoted to plastic storage containers. Just past the plastic clothes hangers we come to the women’s wear section.
The womens’wear section includes blouses, sweaters, dresses, skits, blue jeans and a wide variety of fashion accessories. There are similar but slightly smaller sections for mens and children’s wear. Off to the side is a small furniture section.
There is a small selection of fitness equipment. However most Ecuadorians lead an active lifestyle and keep fit by walking up and down the hills and steps in the city and don’t need extra equipment. The stationary department has all the necessary scribblers, binders, and other supplies for schools and businesses.
There is a large baby section with a full range of high chairs, cribs and other supplies. However, there isn’t a large selection of car seats because many Ecuadorian families with young children can’t afford a car. There is a large pharmacy area with the usual supplies of toothpaste, soaps, hair products and cosmetics. However, there didn’t seem to be a place where prescriptions could be filled.
The supermarket section of Coral looks quite a bit like a North American supermarket. However, there are some interesting differences. In the fresh produce section there is a clerk with a scale. You take your selection of produce to her and she seals it in a bag, puts it on the scale and enters the product code into the scale. The scale prints out a sticker with the product information, price and a bar code that she attaches to the bag. Similar to what is done in the deli meats section of our supermarkets. However, doing this with the produce eliminates the need for those stickers on the fruit, weigh scales at each one of the check-out tills, and the need to teach the checkers the product codes. Another difference is that there are fewer prepared foods and more in the ways of basic ingredients (sugar, flour, dried beans, etc.). Pets are an important aspect of Ecuadorian life and so there is a significant portion of the store devoted to pet foods and pet products.
Unlike Manitoba supermarkets, Coral has a large area devoted to beer, wine and spirits. It has an in-store bakery like many North American supermarkets. The cashiers are friendly and helpful.
If Coral were to set up operation in North America and be able to provide competitive prices, they might well leave many of the big chains like Walmart and Target in the dust.