It took a second for the oddness of the name to register. Sanborns? That’s the name of a store? It’s a chain, actually, centered in Mexico City. With a fairly colorful history.
When I wanted to find magazines for decorating ideas that would be appropriate to this part of the world, I was directed to Sanborns at the Fiesta Americana (above right). Goodbye narrow, broken sidewalks and weathered ruins. And hello, suddenly, to tree-lined boulevards, patches of lawn and valet parking. It sure got swanky real fast in just a few blocks.
Sanborns was like the old department stores that were on their last legs when I was a little kid. It reminded me of Strawbridge & Clothier, or maybe Grace Bros. on TV. Very upscale, very proper salespeople, and a wide variety of merchandise in small departments that crashed into each other. Hosiery and electronics within arm’s length. And to the side, a very proper tea room and a very handsome bar, both kind of English in tone. The bar was empty and stuffy — literally, I mean. They needed to turn on the air conditioning. And the restaurant looked festive, but was also sort of dated and old-timey, which I found endearing.
There was an incredible selection of books and magazines, and I got my Revista Ambientes and some other periodicals that couldn’t be had back home. I saw some amazing layouts with new takes on Colonial architecture and decor. The biggest chain store in Mexico is Liverpool, which is next on my list. I mean, really, an ice rink? So over the top. I just can’t figure out why two of Mexico’s most famous chains have such Anglo-Saxon names.
Outside was a kind of mall, or arcade, of shops which seemed to be starving for customers. Escalators took us to the hotel lobby, which I had been waiting to see. Very grand indeed, but a little tired.
The Hyatt, (above left, with the Fiesta Americana at right) is a much more contemporary hotel across the street. It is not particularly attractive but it has a pretty snazzy lobby and I’ve heard, a great Yucatecan breakfast. The Intercontinental, up the road a bit, was disappointingly cramped, but has a strong following.
I’d love to see Mérida from the perspective of a business traveler, actually. My last flight home was filled with Fiesta Americana conventioneers, and they were chatting contentedly about their time in the White City. Until I actually move here, I’m urging every trade group I belong to or have a professional interest in to have their next exhibition in Mérida.
There’s a charm-to-efficiency ratio that a traveler has to consider. Once in San Francisco, we stayed at a charming guesthouse, the kind where you bump your head in the charming shower and trip over the charmingly tattered rug. That night, we ate in the atrium an ultra-modern hotel that catered to business travelers. We realized we had miscalculated.
I hear enough complaints about all three of these hotels to give me pause. I’m sticking with guesthouses when traveling in Mérida.