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Pulperos were retail grocers in the colonial period of Spanish America. Their stores, pulperías, were normally small in size and inventory and located mostly in the towns and cities, though some were in rural regions and on farms and haciendas. Pulperos constituted the largest group of fixed entrepreneurial storekeepers in the towns and cities. Artisan guilds had many stores, but they could be opened and operated only by trained artisans. The urban grocers were licensed and supervised by the town councils. In some places councils regulated what they could sell as well as where they could make their purchases.

Some towns limited grocery-store licenses to poor widows, and at times, as in Mexico City in the mid-eighteenth century, neither free people of color nor Indians were permitted to operate such stores. Nevertheless, the small retail grocery stores could be established in many urban centers with only modest capital investment. Much and sometimes all of their inventories could be acquired through credit extended by their suppliers, which again enabled people of limited means to enter the entrepreneurial sector of the economy. The vast majority of pulperos were men; some male grocers, and some of the few women grocers also, owned more than one grocery store. Functioning in the commercial marketplace was not without its risks, and only a few grocers endured in business over the long term.

Pulperos supplied basic food items, among other goods, to a large segment of the population, and they did so at times by extending credit. When they were required by law to accept pawns in return for food items, as in Mexico City from the mid-eighteenth century, they were again extending food items for credit. Where the grocers were permitted to sell alcoholic beverages, as in Buenos Aires, their stores were part grocery and part tavern.

After independence retail grocery stores continued to exist, but by the later nineteenth century they often became indistinguishable from bodegas, which during the colonial period had sold a different category of goods. During the twentieth century the typical neighborhood retail grocery store in many cities of Spanish America were known simply as bodegas.

See alsoSpanish Empire .


Kinsbruner, Jay. Petty Capitalism in Spanish America: The Pulperos of Puebla, Mexico City, Caracas, and Buenos Aires. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1987.

Mayo, Carlos, ed. Pulperos y Pulperías de Buenos Aires, 1740–1830. Mar del Plata, Argentina: Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata, 1997.

                                            Jay Kinsbruner