Isla Mujeres Mystery ~ Lynda L. Lock

Shopping with Aida at Cañotal Market

A few years ago, Aida, an island friend took me shopping in her neighbourhood at the Cañotal Market.  

I was impressed by the selection of produce, fresh meats, and other services such as shoe repairs available in the open-air market. 
While out walking recently I was surprised to discover a newer structure had been built around the outside of the old building, blocking off the natural light for the original arcade.  

The new building seemed to offer brighter stalls with tiled walls, a sink with running water, and better lighting.  And they were empty!  Every last one.

New and empty building at Cañotal Market

Marcy, my walking partner, remembers when she and Chuck first discovered Isla Mujeres twenty years ago the Cañotal Market was a bustling place.  Curious, we poked our heads into the darker older section to see which stores still remained.  

A number of the fruit and vegetable kiosks are closed, no longer in business.  One butcher store, a leather repair stall and a shoe store appeared to still be operating. 

Carlos – with a sample of his sandals

At the shoe store we stopped to admire a selection of stilettos shoes, much too tall and precarious for our untrained feet, but beautifully made in a variety of colours.  The store proprietor introduced himself as Carlos, and told us a little about his products.  He said he had worked for four years in Boston Massachusetts in the Birkenstock factory, learning how to construct well-made shoes.  Eventually he decided to return to Mexico to be closer to family and friends. 

He now has a shoe factory in the small city of Ticul near Merida.  The city is well-known for a variety of shoe factories making excellent quality footwear.  He showed us how durable his sandals were, asking me to pull strongly against his weight, trying to rip the toe piece away from the sandal sole.  No luck.  

He also mentioned that his shoes sold for considerably higher prices in stores in the hotel zone of Cancun.  Carlos was very proud of his products, but sadly admitted that footwear made in Mexico is losing market-share to shoes made in other countries such as China or India.

Cañotal Market in better times

Carlos’s English is quite good, so I asked more questions: “Why is the new building empty?”  He said the three bigger grocery stores, two Super X-Press stores and Chedraui Super Store, made the small kiosks unprofitable.  People have changed their buying habits, preferring to do more shopping in one location, rather than visit individual stalls for various items.  He said the government money had already been committed to the project by the time the grocery stores made their plans to build on Isla public.  So, the project went ahead as planned. 

Asking other islanders the same question I was given two more possible reasons the new building is empty; the monthly rental on the new stalls is apparently prohibitively expensive, and there seems to be problems with the electrical service to the new building. 

Whatever the problems it is sad to see a new building empty and graffiti covered.  It’s a forlorn sight.  

Fortunately I have a few photos of when it was a busy, thriving enterprise used by many islanders for their daily shopping.


3 Replies to “Changing neighbourhoods”

  1. I'm sorry to hear the news about the market. I have never had the opportunity to visit it when I have been on the island. We usually only have one golf cart day and I never found it in our travels. I hope to locate it when we are there in a couple months and check out those beautiful sandals.


  2. Interesting to hear this story about the market. We live only one block away from the market and frequent it almost daily…I have often wondered why it is so empty. I would love to see more stores there. My husband and I have bought many pairs of shoes from Carlos….they are very well made! When Will looks for new shoes we only have to walk down the street! There is room for lots of shops and it is sad to see it so empty


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