The Power of the Tienda

The word tienda in this context encompasses both the physical mini-stores that offer the odds and ends one might need during the day, as well as its close relative, the cart. Both exist to fill the void left by bad breath, oddly-timed hunger, a caffeine fix, or the need for a smoke, and truly live up to the translation  “convenience store”. Stores like these have ceased to exist in places like the U.S., where bigger conglomerates have taken over, or where what’s most convenient is what one buys while pumping gas. However in Colombia, tiendas and little carts help facilitate the daily routine.

Bogotá’s carts, not to be confused with food carts, cover a good portion of the city: from bus stops, to workplaces, and even outside clubs after a long night. This coverage allows one to have almost every need covered in almost any part of the city without worrying about buying an entire bag of anything since the portions sold are by unit. I’ve seen foreigners break into a smile knowing that they can purchase single cigarettes.

From El Espectador (Newspaper)

From El Espectador (Newspaper)

Need some coffee in the morning? Done. Forgot your umbrella? Don’t worry, they often carry a variety. Did your cell run out of minutes? Feel free to get angry at any and all Colombian cellphone providers, but fret not because the carts have YOU covered.

If the beauty of the cart lies in the convenience of its geographical coverage, then the tienda fills in the rest of the needs. With more permanent location and larger space, tiendas, are the equivalent of a mini-mini-mini supermarket without fluorescent lights and uniforms. Offering produce, cleaning supplies, milk products, and more, they are what one traditionally refers to as a ‘mom and pop’ store. These little stores help avoid long trips to the supermarket, thus saving one time. Time which can be spent getting to know the store owner, exploring the city, or pondering life.

Though a rebirth of the tienda in the U.S. would be nice, I’m merely proposing that next time you purchase something from a cart or a tienda in Colombia, or elsewhere, that you too are grateful for the true convenience of these businesses.

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