In Antigua, there are large number of tiny shops, many of which operate only through a barred window – which necessitates the customer standing on the street giving his order while the shop owner behind finds the required goods. That’s all well and good but a little limiting since (a) you have to know exactly what you want (and, of course, be able to order it in Spanish) and (b) it limits the opportunity for browsing. So, in my view, as isn’t a great business model. But maybe it’s done like this for security reasons or because of space constraints: I’m not exactly sure.
Next size up from the “hole in the wall” shops are tiny stores where you can go in but frankly if there are more than 3 of you in there (including the shop owner) then it can all become rather a tight squeeze and so it’s normally better to wait on the pavement until it’s your turn. These stores tend to be ram jam full of goods from floor to ceiling and actually can be a bit overwhelming given the amount of stuff which is packed in so tightly. It’s also hard just to “browse” in here because essentially you are taking up space and getting in the way of other potential customers if you don’t engage immediately with the shop owner and get on with things.
There are supermakets too although not huge amounts of these (we found more in El Salvador). In any event, these tend to be a bit less slick than their European counterparts with which I’m familiar but still they are useful and (obviously) tend to stock the widest range of goods. Here prices are fixed and clearly marked which is also an advantage.
To celebrate our completion of what is probably our final week of Spanish school, we decided to buy a bottle of wine on our way home. When we popped into one of Antigua’s tiny stores, I couldn’t immediately see any alcohol on any of the shelves and was therefore just about to do an about turn when the young kid (probably aged about 10) jumped off the stool on which he had been standing while stacking higher shelves and asked if he could help. When I asked if there was any wine, he immediately disappeared behind the counter and produced a single bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and that was it – one bottle of wine – no choice of colour or type. However, as it was red wine that I was after, this all seemed to be going in the right direction so it was time to ask for the price.
It was at this point that the wheels of the transaction almost came off because for a second he looked at me a little blankly but then suddenly grabbed the phone on the counter and started dialling furiously and seemed very happy when the person on the other end of the phone (who turned out to be his father) answered so promptly! Price agreed, the sale was made to the delight (or relief maybe?) of both parties.
Obviously it appears that unlike in the UK, there are no laws about the age at which you are allowed to sell alcohol (or at least if there is a law, this is not one which is readily enforced!). Likewise with any laws relating to child labour as well…?