The San Antonio River Walk is filled with vibrant souvenir shops hawking all manner of trinkets — from tiny boot-shaped keychains to Alamo snow globes.
But in a world where most things are mass produced, tourists visiting San Antonio prefer authentic and handcrafted keepsakes. Many of the most sought-after items are not from the iconic Tex-Mex city. Some aren’t even from the same continent.
At Mercado Ritas, many tourists come looking for vanilla from Veracruz, Mexico.
“People know it’s the very best,” said María, an employee of Mercado Ritas who declined to share her last name.
The small shop, located along East Commerce Street, is visited by more than 1,000 tourists each day during the summer. Visitors seeking to purchase gifts for their loved ones can choose from handcrafted bags made in Guatemala, nativity sets from Peru, and Mexican candles.
“Typically, I don’t buy tacky souvenirs. I’m not one to buy something that says Texas or San Antonio,” said Shelby Fuller, a tourist from Florida. “A lot of things in shops like this one come from places like Guatemala, where people take their time to make them. There’s a story.”
Fuller says she likes handmade souvenirs because they promote local artisans and help the environment.
Down the river, Bonita Ritas, the sister company to Mercado Ritas, is another souvenir shop. The shop, one of the newest on the River Walk, has been open for just eight years but has become a go-to place for tourists.
“Everyday we have people coming in from all over the world asking about the blankets we sell,” Debbie Mendoza said. “These blankets are … from Guadalajara or Ecuador.”
The colorful blankets that hang on the walls of Bonita Ritas are hand-sewn and made of alpaca fiber.
According to Mendoza, the most expensive blankets are from small villages in Ecuador because of the workmanship that goes into crafting them.
“We want everything as unique as possible,” said Mendoza. “And we know the people that visit us appreciate that.”
Laura Romero is a 2019 NAHJ Student Project participant. She is a junior at American University with a major in communications, law, economics and government. She is an intern at ABC News with the investigative and justice department. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @lauraromero1207.