Shopping in Panama
Shopping in Panama is effortless, considering the breathtaking range of products and the vast choices available. What is not up to standard is the service that one would expect from salespeople (because of the rapid growth, and labour shortages). Panama is infamous for its unprofessional and badly-trained shop assistants, who love chatting to one another whilst totally ignoring the client.
There are a number of excellent shopping centres, the best ones being Multiplaza in Punta Pacifica and the Albrook Mall which forms part of the national bus and metro terminal, in Albrook. Downtown there is also Multicentro, located where the Cinta Costera begins, but it is not so well laid out (it does have a good Conway furniture store). Via España used to be the shopping street in the old days, but has become irrelevant due to the emergence of the shopping malls. The neigbourhood of Eldorado is also famous for bigger-item shopping
Multiplaza is the most successful of the upmarket shopping centres and is located in Punta Pacifica, close to the Trump Tower. This is where you will find the Cartier, Tiffany & Co, Ralph Lauren, Salvatore Ferragamo, Carolina Herrera, et al designer shops. There is also a popular Panamanian department store called Felix Maduro, which offers a wide range of quality clothing for adults and children, handbags & shoes, cosmetics and skin care products, bed linens and towels and also a toy section. A similar store is called Stevens, which offers the same kind of merchandise as Felix, only much more, but more affordable. They have a good home section with a huge selection of attractive tableware, ornaments, and even furniture.
For electrical appliances and electronic equipment (everything from stoves, fridges and washing machines to TV’s, sound systems, computers, printers, telephones etc. etc.) there are three excellent stores to choose from in Multiplaza: the huge Multimax, Panafoto (which has an infuriating checking-out procedure for merchandise) and Audiofoto. The salespeople of the latter are well-trained and professional.
Multiplaza has a number of food halls where one can order any conceivable type of take-away. There are also a large number of film theatres, inter alia a few VIP theatres where one can stretch out on a leather recliner sofa with waiters taking orders for refreshments, which include alcoholic beverages like margaritas. Going to the movies in Panama is very cheap in comparison to the States, for example.
Multiplaza has a branch of Do-It, a chain of general hardware stores where one can buy anything related to hardware, power tools like Bosch and De Walt, paint, electrical and plumbing supplies, etc. but also high quality cleaning products imported from the US, ironing boards, electrical appliances, kitchenware and so much more.
There are also a number of hairdressers and health stores, and most importantly, there’s also a branch of the best grocery shop in Panama – Riba Smith. In Riba there’s a small pharmacy and a big selection of any kind of grocery imaginable. The quality of their meat, fish & fresh produce is the best available in Panama. They also have a nursery on the outside of the shop and their orchids are just stunning. There are more Riba Smith branches in Costa del Este, in Bella Vista, in Tumba Muerto and there will be one in the City of Knowledge opening shortly.
Albrook Mall, Albrook offers more or less the same stores than Multiplaza, but without the Riba Smith, which is indeed a pity. The only grocery store in Albrook Mall is a bad branch of the Super99 chain (which happens to belong to President Martinelli and which made him a millionaire). The major difference between Multiplaza and the original Albrook Mall is the clientele.
Multiplaza caters for the affluent, sophisticated Panamanian living in the chic areas near it, whilst the original Albrook catered for the middle and lower income classes and the bus passengers from the interior. Because it forms part of the Albrook bus terminal (and shortly the Metro terminal), Panamanians from the interior come to Albrook by bus to do their shopping. Having said that, however, a new wing has recently been added to the Albrook Mall with an array of designer boutiques and very popular Panamanian shops like the high-end Collins department store, as well as an Arrocha pharmacy, which will definitely change the profile of the average shopper there.
The nearby City of Knowledge is taking in more and more international companies with expat staff and a new United Nations Headquarters for Central America which is under construction will introduce hundreds of new expats to that area.
Albrook Mall will also in the immediate future offer something quite unique – a huge hotel right inside a shopping centre! Panama is considered to be a shoppers’ paradise and serious shoppers and traders from all over Latin America flock here to acquire merchandize. It is calculated that more than 70% of sales by value at Multiplaza and Albrook are to foreigners, who walk the passages with their roller-suitcases – testimony enough to Panama’s fame as the mecca of best prices.
Then there are a number of wholesale outlets in the City, similar to Makro in the RSA. These includes PriceSmart (branches on Via Brasil and Tumba Muerto) where one needs to pay a membership fee of $35 per year, as well as Megadepot and Discovery Centre.
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