Thursday, January 29, 2009

How do all these American retailers get here?

The Albrook Bus Terminal

Central Food Court & carousel in Albrook Mall

The Zebra entrance to Albrook Mall

There is another huge, and I mean really huge, shopping mall in western Panama City. It is the Albrook Mall. Adjacent to the mall is the very big and very new bus terminal, where hundreds of both local and long distance buses, are coming and going. There are actually modern food courts in this exceptionally rider friendly terminal. The buses here are very rustic and not really for the gringo faint of heart. There seem to be a lot of old U.S. converted school buses. They are often, however, very gaily painted.

Albrook is in an area that was part of the former Canal Zone in the Balboa area. The mall and the bus terminal are next to the airport that was used by the Americans within the zone and was called the Albrook Air Force Base. It is now the domestic flights airport. As I study the ways “to and from” in Panama City, we generally are taking taxis. It is always surprising how the taxi drivers know the subtle short cuts, often through residential areas. Returning from Albrook, I swear it didn’t take more than 10 minutes to return to our condo, and this was across most of the downtown. It cost the grand sum of $2.50. The other day when we were returning from Miraflores in our rental car it probably took us a half an hour, but of course we got lost! There are so many taxis around (I don’t think the natives much like driving here either) the trick is to time your selection to match one with air conditioning. The key is whether their windows are up or down.

Well, back at the mall, the place is so large and has so many entrances, that they have very cleverly “signed” them with animal associations. We entered the pink hippopotamus wing and immediately were confronted with a very cute six foot plaster pink hippopotamus. Other entrances are the zebra, elephant, giraffe, lion, rhinoceros, panda, porpoise, panda bear, penguin, gorilla, wolf, and tiger. The animals are a big hit with all the kids and parents. A lot of photos were being taken. Mall Security is guys dressed like safari guides. The mall is so large that other employees are moving around on segway scooters. Very clever!

It can be truthfully said that the Panamanians really do like eating out. The mall has catered to this desire by having three food courts (not counting the food courts in the bus terminal across the street), plus separate sit down restaurants. The foot courts are packed by about 1 p.m. There are so many stores, shops, and carts that it is pretty overwhelming. Interestingly most products and stores are American brands. There does not seem to be any separate retail Panama culture. The prices are pretty comparable with U.S. prices. The “world’s greatest shopper” figures she can buy most of what is available in the U.S., so we got away with a nice lunch and a $3 children’s book.

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