November 5, 2004 in Business

Culture discounted

Associated Press
Associated Press photo

A man and a child on a shopping cart wait for the inaugural opening of the Wal-Mart supermarket near the pyramids in San Juan Teotihuacan, Mexico, on Thursday.
(Full-size photo)

TEOTIHUACAN, Mexico — A Wal-Mart-owned discount store quietly opened its doors Thursday less than a mile from the ancient temples of Teotihuacan, despite months of protests claiming the sprawling complex was an insult to Mexican culture.

Protesters have held hunger strikes and blockades in a campaign to stop the discount store, which bears the name of Wal-Mart subsidiary Bodega Aurrera. Many had said the boxy, concrete building would spoil the view from the ruins, including the towering Pyramid of the Sun hundreds of tourists visit each day.

Yet no opponents were present Thursday afternoon as the store opened for business, welcoming hundreds of people who had waited most of the day to shop. The store celebrated the opening with fireworks and employees shouting “Yes we can!”

Wal-Mart had refused to publicize a date for its opening, but news spread by word-of-mouth.

The dispute in Teotihuacan — a town built next to the ruins of the 2,000-year-old metropolis — has illustrated how the allure of low prices and U.S. lifestyles often wins out in Mexico.

“I respect my roots, but I also defend progress and development,” said Juan Rosas, 34, waiting for the store to open with a crowd of shoppers who began chanting: “Next we want a movie theater!”

Wal-Mart had argued the fight against the store was led by local business owners who didn’t want to compete.

“I think the best illustration is this group of people who have gathered since 8 a.m. waiting for the store to open,” said Raul Arguelles, Wal-Mart’s vice president of corporate affairs.

Wal-Mart is now Mexico’s biggest retailer after buying up numerous Mexican chains in recent years, including companies like Bodega Aurrera.

Despite protests starting in August, the store was rushed to completion after local authorities and the Paris-based International Council On Monuments and Sites, Icomos, said the building would do no harm.

Only minor vestiges of the ruins — some pottery shards and a small stone platform — were found under the site’s parking lot. They were preserved.

The ruins, located in a valley just north of Mexico City, were built by a little-known culture whose very name has been lost, and were abandoned hundreds of years before the Spaniards arrived.

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