Holiday alternative to the mall draws in loyal customers to South Side shopping center

Are you tired of looking at the mall for that hard-to-find gift? Then it could be worth a short drive just south of downtown to Pica Pica Plaza in the 900 block of SE Military Drive, which supports a variety of San Antonio small businesses.

Best known simply as Pica Pica, more than 70 small, independently owned shops are located inside a large building next door to its event center.

“It’s going to be very rare that I find somebody that has something else like it,” said shopper Monica Mendoza about the purchases she makes at Pica Pica.

Her daughter Rose said, “You can find things that really relate to the person that you’re shopping for as opposed to like what’s the trend nowadays.”

From quinceanera dresses to electronics, pop-it fidget toys to popular action figures, and much more, Pica Pica also has a food court and live music on the weekends.

Some of the vendors said they would have even more to choose from, but persistent supply chain problems have delayed shipments ordered months ago since much of the merchandise is imported.

Andy Madhani, who owns an electronics store, said his orders are stuck at the Port of Houston.

“Can’t get no drivers, no 18 wheelers. They won’t even let no ships dock at the port right now because there’s no drivers to drive it and bring it to us,” Madhani said.

If his customers can’t find what they want, Madhani said they look elsewhere.

He said, “Who gets hurt? The small businessman.”

Jose Gutierrez, who sells comic books and popular action figures at his shop, was surprised to see the new Spiderman action figures had arrived in time for the new movie. Gutierrez said he’d been told to expect the shipment next month.

Adding to the uncertainty, Gutierrez said he orders his merchandise from the same distributors used by the big box stores months in advance.

“They get it first, and then we’re left to wait for a second or third shipment or whatever trickles out, or they just cancel it,” he said.

Yet, that has nothing to do with the supply chain, Gutierrez said. It’s always been that way, he said.

He also said the bigger stores get the more significant discounts.

Gutierrez said as a result of that and higher shipping costs, his merchandise is a dollar or two higher.

“But it’s worth it,” he said. “Keeps us alive.”