Panama’s Mall Culture

Perhaps again aping Dubai, although on a more modest scale, Panama just can’t seem to get enough malls.

Gigantic Albrook Mall on the site of the old Albrook AFB

Driving from David to Panama City you see new shopping malls of all sizes springing up, and a mall starting construction today will be finished in time for pre-Christmas sales!  Supposedly, we have a new mall coming to David, 35 minutes from our house outside Boquete … and, drum roll, it is supposed to have a Riba Smith supermarket, unquestionably the best grocery store in Panama with an amazing selection of products, many imported from North America.

But in the meantime, as if Panama City doesn’t have enough malls …

An announcement has been made for the construction of a $160M mall with 190 stores, called Alta Plaza in Panama City, expected to open its doors in September 2015.

  • Multiplaza, Vía Israel, Panama City, Panama
  • Albrook Mall, aside of Gran Terminal de Transporte, Albrook, Panama City
  • Multi Centro, Avenida Balboa, Paitilla, Panama City.
  • El Dorado Shipping Center, Ricardo J. Alfaro Ave., (Tumba Muerto), Panama City.
  • Plaza Concordia, Vía España (Banking Area), Panama City
  • Vía Venetto Shopping Center, aside of Hotel El Panamá, 49 St., Panama City.
  • Bal Harbour, Vía Italia, Punta Paitilla, aside of Plaza Paitilla, Panama City.
  • Los Pueblos, entrance to Cerro Viento, national route to Tocumen Airport, Panama City.
  • Plaza New York, 50 St. y 53 St E. Street, Panama City.
  • Metromall, Domingo Díaz Ave, Panama City.

Now if we could just get all of these malls connected with a sky train or monorail, throw in some amazing fountains, and perhaps an indoor sky resort .

What's next, a ski resort like this one in a mall in Dubai?

What’s next, a ski resort like this one in a mall in Dubai?

In the ten years we’ve lived in Panama, with the economic boom, there is more and more disposable income, not just in Panama City, but throughout the country.

  • Ten years ago we had to search for basic pet supplies, like Frontline flea stuff, treats, etc. You were lucky to find more than one brand of dog food.  Pets are expensive.  Dogs were primarily for security and not intended to be pampered pooches.  Now, go to almost any grocery store and you will find an entire aisle of pet products.
  • The vets all treated horses and cows and it was challenging to find a vet who could take care of small animals.  Now there are vets who specialize in cats and dogs, and even dog grooming centers, and I saw a doggy hotel in Panama City.
  • Any weekend, or any afternoon for that matter, you will see scores of folks riding between David and Boquete on $8,000 racing bikes dressed in $1,000 worth of Spandex.
  • Yep, we now are starting to get graffiti, meaning kids have enough disposable income to buy spray paint.  Steal, perhaps, but that’s a lot harder to do in Panama than in the US.
  • People in Chiriqui used to paint only the front, street side of their house, now they paint the entire house.
  • Our local neighbors are all expanding their homes, adding on, making home improvements.  DoItCenters, like the ones we used to have in the States before they were forced out by Lowe’s and Home Depot, are popping up everywhere.
  • Panama City puts 159 new cars on the streets every day … without getting rid of the old ones.  Most Panamanians drive brand new cars.  Gringo expats drive the old, dented-up vehicles.
  • The cell phone penetration in Panama is 1.9 cell phones per person!  Everyone has a cell phone.  Many have smart phones. Driving while on your cell phone or texting has become a major problem and can result in a huge fine.
  • There is still a wide disparity of wealth between the really filthy rich and the very poor, but a middle class is growing, encouraged by public policy.  For $55,000 to $150,000 you can buy a basic, but nice tract home.  Low, low down payment.  Your $60 to $100 monthly payment is automatically deducted from your pay check and the government guarantees the loan.  So you have a home of your own!  You can start visiting DoItCenter and start the endless cycle of remodeling, painting, building equity, selling and moving up to bigger and better.  The dream of being middle class and owning your own home.

There is truth in the old adage that a rising tide lifts all boats.  But, as the economy has flourished and wages have increased and there is more disposable income … prices have gone up.  Prices of food and construction have doubled making life tougher for those at the bottom or those on fixed incomes.


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