A vendor at El Gran Mercado (The Big Market), a sprawling outdoor flea market that caters to Latino immigrants waits for customers in his hat stall. El Gran Mercado is the largest flea market of its type in the Phoenix area. Small mom and pop vendors sell cowboy hats and boots, Ranchera and Mariachi tapes, pinatas and lucha libre (wrestling) paraphernalia. The food stalls sell things that are hard to find in mainstream Phoenix restaurants, even Mexican ones, like birria chivo (goat stew) and menudo (tripe). Signage throughout the market is in Spanish, which is more widely spoken in the market than English. The concert bandstand has regular lucha libre shows that draw thousands of screaming fans. Shopping at El Gran Mercado is like making a run to a small town south of the border.
The market appears to be changing. Yesterday it was empty. Fewer than 1/3 of the stalls were open. The remaining restaurants had paltry crowds. I saw only one customer in the beauty salon all afternoon. I asked El Payaso, a clown, trying to entertain a handful of children where all the people had gone. Looking around atop his stilts he said, “they’re gone.” Waving his hands, he added, “like the wind, phhht.”