We go when we have to . . . hopefully not more than twice a month, especially with diesel at $4.75 a gallon! David, Panama’s third largest city, is about 45 minutes from Boquete.
Price Smart is Panama’s Costco wantabe. The original big box stores in Southern California were called Price Club and run out of San Diego. Eventually Price Smart was bought out by Costco, but those of us who started with Price Club (in Oxnard, California) always called it Price Club long after it became Costco. Well the Price family still operates a group of stores in the Caribbean and Central America.
Price Smart looks like the familiar big box Price Club/Costco stores in the US, and for us there is a sense of familiarity about shopping there, but it is MUCH different!
For one thing forget the loyal, fun loving, hard working, well paid, dedicated, customer-service oriented employees that characterize Price Club/Costco in the US. There are lots of employees, a lot standing around, putting in their time, doing the minimum . . .
There’s no $1.50 Hebrew national quarter pound hot dog and Coke! A squiggly hot dog and Coke run about $3.00 here, and it’s not nearly as good. I used to stop at Price Smart/Costco just for lunch, I liked the hot dogs that much!
The shelves have some stuff . . . but really not much. Expats joke that is something sells well at Price Smart they stop carrying it . . . because customers disrupt things by buying it, so it’s not filling the shelves looking nice. Occasionally you will see a Kirkland brand, but it’s rare. A VP of Price Smart, who happened to bump into me in the David store and got an ear full, tells me that Panama’s import restrictions and somewhat monopolistic ways of doing business make it very difficult for Price Smart to import the products it wishes to carry.
Don’t assume things are cheaper. We have found a number of items that are cheaper at our local Romero’s in Boquete, than at Price Smart. And don’t assume it’s cheaper to buy the bulk item. Unlike in the States, often at Price Smart you are being charged more for the bulk item. It doesn’t make sense to me . . . but, hey, it’s Panama! A friend of mine will only buy rum in the small bottles because he thinks it’s insane to pay more for the half gallon size than a bunch of small bottles. Go figure!
But you rarely have to wait in line, since it’s just not that popular with Panamanians. Maybe they’ve run the numbers . . . I suspect Price Smart doesn’t do that well in Panama. And if Costco or Wal Mart ever gets into Panama, Price Smart is history.
We go to the old section of David where my wife Nikki shops at the farm stores for supplies for our coffee farm.
El Rancherito and a lot of other farm stores are right in the David market, so here are a few shots of old David and the market.
And finally, before we leave David, a shot of the new yellow taxi cabs. Panama has passed a law that all the new taxi cabs must be yellow.
According to an article in LA PRENSA . . .
Panama’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has grown during the last 23 consecutive quarters, according to statistics from the Contraloría General de la República. The last quarterly contraction, measuring 0.7 percent, occurred in the second quarter of 2002.
In the last five years, the GDP has increased an average of 7.8 percent annually. The Centro Nacional de Competitividad (CNC) estimates that the country will continue growing between 5 percent and 8 percent annually for at least the next 10 years.
The consulting firms Indesa and LatinConsulting predict growth of 7 percent for 2008, the Ministerio de Economía y Finanzas (MEF) 8 percent and Citibank 9 percent.
Guillermo Chapman, the ex-minister of Planificación Económica, said “We hope the Gross Domestic Product will grow at an annual rate of 7.5 percent until 2010, under conditions of high inflation and better fiscal scenarios.”
Only a significant change in global economic trends, a sharp deacceleration of world commerce and the volatility of oil prices threaten the predicted growth.
“We believe the year 2009 will be better than this one because of the Canal expansion,” Horacio Estribí said. Estribí is an economist and deputy director of the MEF’s public policy department.
In the opinion of Nicolás Ardito Barletta, general director of the Centro Nacional de Competitividad de la Asociación Panameña de Ejecutivos de Empresa, the country’s current economic reality is comparable only to the boom of the 1960s. “Between 1960 and 1970, Panamá grew 7.9 percent annually, the most in Latin America, and for several years posted a rate of growth greater than 8 percent,” he explained.
The growth drivers then and now are similar, Ardito added. They are rising exports, a strong increase in investment, and the maximization of the use of port and Canal capacity and related assets.
The construction sector grew strongly in the 1960s, too, but the current boom surpasses all precedents.
By contrast, according to MARKETWATCH . . .
The U.S. economy slowed sharply in the fourth quarter, growing at a 0.6% annual rate, the weakest growth since the economy was pulling out of recession in 2002, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. The growth rate was lower than the 1.1% expected by economists. The economy grew at a 4.9% pace in the third quarter. Consumer spending and business investments slowed slightly in the fourth quarter. Investments in houses fell at the fastest rate in 26 years. Exports grew at a slower pace. For all of 2007, gross domestic product grew 2.2%, the slowest growth since 2002. GDP increased 2.9% in 2006.