Pulperías are alive and kicking (están vivas y coleando) in Costa Rica

This is good news for retirees who are looking for convenience when shopping for some food items.

In case readers don’t know a pulpería or pulpe (slang term) is a kind of mom and pop corner grocery or convenience store in Costa Rica. At a pulpería you can find items like basic groceries, gas tanks and even diapers or almost anything else you’d need around the house.The person who runs the store is called a pulpero/a.

pulperia en costa rica

Although the origin of this word is hard to pinpoint, one theory says that at one time pulperías were a place where you could buy the pulpo (pulp) of different fruits. In the days of old these establishments were the gathering place in smaller towns and neighborhoods where people socialized . Those who frequented the local pulpería were bound to keep up on all of the town’s news and gossip.

A few years ago it was thought that Costa Rica’s pulperías were dying a slow death because of the proliferation of large supermarket chains like Mas X Menos, Periféricos, Jumbo and Mega Super. However, according to a recent study about consumer habits by the firm GS-1, in 2013 Costa Ricans purchased 13 percent more at pulperías than in 2012.

One of the reason some consumers are returning to the pulperías are the long lines at larger supermarkets. Most people do their shopping on Saturday and Sunday afternoons because they work during the week. If you go to any large supermarket here like Walmart or Pricesmart on any weekend, you will witness a virtual mob scene with interminable lines. Now some shoppers prefer to pay a little more for basic items at a pulpería to avoid the large crowds.

Ticos also prefer las pulpes because of the friendly treatment and personalized service they receive. At times when a neighbor is short on money he or she can purchase items on credit or al fiado as we say in Spanish. You would never be able to do this at a large supermarket.

Despite the apparent resurgence of the country’s pulperías, ticos still prefer to go to supermarkets every 15 days (quincena in Spanish) to purchase products in larger quantities and more important items. They usually go to the pulpería for smaller things that they run out of between each quincena.

The only real downside to the local purperías as one tico friend said, “I prefer to go to larger supermarkets because my neighborhood pulpería doesn’t have anything I need. The other day, for example, I went there to buy a soft drink and they didn’t even have the brand I wanted.”

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