What They Bought
JM Dry Goods in Marfa, Texas

If you’re ever in Marfa, the much-publicized but still incredibly isolated Far West Texas town made famous by minimalist artist Donald Judd, and you’re thinking about taking a day trip across the Mexican border to the 18,000-population town of Ojinaga, Chihuahua, remember this: Leave early in the morning. You’ll want to catch any businesses — the adobe brick-maker, say, or the optometrist for cheap eyeglasses — before they close for a lengthy afternoon siesta. And even though you’ll only drive 60 miles south of town, you’ll be heading from high desert to low, which means afternoons in OJ can be blisteringly hot. Lastly, you’ll want to be able to tell your friends you stopped at a roadside stand for micheladas at 9 A.M. Not a bad way to start the day.

That’s where I found myself one recent March morning, sipping micheladas and their beer-free counterpart — the preparado — with Michelle Teague, owner of Marfa’s effortlessly cool ranchwear and housewares shop JM Dry Goods, and her business partner, glass- and soap-maker Ginger Griffice. Every six weeks or so, Teague and Griffice travel to OJ on buying trips. Teague scouts the small array of stores, filled with both the everyday and the bizarre, for items to boost JM Dry Goods’s border-town flavor. Griffice buys empty bottles of Topo Chico, a popular Mexican sparkling mineral water, at OJ’s Coca-Cola bottling plant, and they become the bases for the drinking glasses she sells at the store. By now, their trips follow an established pattern. Morning micheladas are an important part of the ritual.

Two years ago, Teague (like Griffice, a native Texan), moved here from New York, where she’d worked as a costumer in the film industry. After spending the summer of 2006 working on the Marfa set of the Oscar-winning film There Will Be Blood, she concocted the idea of returning to the desert, family in tow — her toddler son Jack Maverick is the store’s namesake — to open a shop filled with work boots, textiles, and pottery. As JM Dry Goods became a reality, Teague’s close friend Griffice, a Marfa-based photo producer, came on board. She started making her glasses with a friend’s castoff 1970’s-era bottle cutter, a relic from that decade’s boom in crafting.

Directly across the Rio Grande, Ojinaga is the most accessible and obvious destination to “prop out the store,” as Teague puts it. But it’s not a tourist trap; it’s a working-class city surrounded by ranches, relatively free — comparatively speaking, at least — from the drug violence that haunts other Mexican border towns. (“Ginger and I risk our lives to bring back brooms and matches,” Teague jokes.) You won’t find typical souvenirs in OJ. “It’s all oddities, things you don’t have in the States,” she says. “We’ll decide we want to search out certain things, like incense, so we’ll go to the botanica shops, which are totally insane.” You’ll also see alligator boots, cowboy hats, piñatas, statues of the Virgin of Guadelupe, and iguana balm, a mysterious substance Teague only found once. “There are certain things you can get in OJ that are so tough and cool — like how the guys dress here, wearing leather belts depicting cock-fighting scenes.”

After the micheladas and the Coca-Cola plant, where Griffice buys cases of empties, the three of us head to an outdoor pottery market. Then it’s a candy store, a paper store, and finally, another roadside stand — this time for incredible shrimp tostadas and ceviche. It’s only 3 P.M., but it feels like we’ve had a full day already. Must be siesta time.

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The Chihuahuan Desert landscape, seen while heading south on Highway 67 towards Ojinaga: cactus and creosote.

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Presidio (population 4,000) is the border town on the U.S. side.

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A street scene in Ojinaga. The primary-color facades are typical OJ. “A large part of our trips is devoted to taking photos — the colors of the buildings or signs for a mechanic shop — which I turn into postcards for the shop,” says Teague.

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Griffice especially loves this advertisement on the side of “El Taco Loco” restaurant, featuring a knife-wielding tortilla.

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Griffice (left) and Teague sift through used Topo Chico bottles at the Coca-Cola bottling plant to see which empties might work for Griffice’s glasses. They’re looking for clean, minimally scratched specimens. “Topo Chico has become hugely popular in Texas,” Griffice notes. “It comes from a mountain spring in Monterrey, Mexico. I guess there’s a novelty to drinking Mexican water.” “It’s got a bit of a flash,” adds Teague. “You open it and it’s super carbonated in that mineral-water way. It’s just so refreshing.”

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We arrive at the michelada counter. “You can hardly tell there’s beer in this,” Teague says. The drink pictured here is actually a preparado: It’s made with Topo Chico instead of beer. The ice is shaved on site; it's flavored with lime juice, black pepper, Clamato, Tabasco, a celery stalk, a little tiny clam, and “this yummy salt,” says Teague.

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Next stop: a pottery market underneath a tarp off OJ’s main road, where Teague finds a piggy bank and a huge casserole dish. She’ll either sell the dish, use it in the store as a display, or keep it for herself — it's a perfect size for enchiladas.

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Most of that day’s pottery haul is by request from a local chef, who needed a large number of these dishes for an event. Here, the owner of the market cleans the dust off of our purchases before we load them into the car.

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“I just pick what I like,” says Teague, pictured. “We don’t really think ‘What do the people want?’ You have to think, I like this, so I trust that it will appeal to other people. Otherwise it’s no fun.”

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“OJ’s pottery is very workaday,” says Griffice. “It’s not fancy.”

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Ojinaga pride, in the form of a stuffed bear and something resembling a Homies character. This badass car pulled up next to us at the pottery place.

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These brightly-colored brooms, sold at the local candy shop, are one of Teague’s favorite OJ finds.

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Inside, an overwhelmingly huge array of sweets.

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Clasicos matches. Out of all the items stocked at JM, this might be the only one that’s invited Border Patrol suspicion. "They were like, why are you bringing back so many matches?” Teague, the Spanish-speaker of the duo, recalls. “I just said, 'They’re for my friends.'” Navigating the border can be trickier on the American side than on the Mexican. "When you carry a bunch of bottles and purple brooms back, you kind of have to explain what you’re doing," says Griffice. "But we try to make small hauls. At one point we asked about bringing back a trailer full of 1,000 empties, and it was a completely different story on both sides.”

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Another Ojinaga speciality: piñatas. There are a few piñata-makers in town, but they were closed on the day we visited.

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Sinaloa, the mouth-watering mariscos (seafood) stand, is open from 7AM to 11PM. (Sinaloa is one of the northwestern states in Mexico; it’s also the name of one of the drug cartels operating in the state of Chihuahua.) Two young guys with braces wearing sunglasses, fanny packs, and Hollister hoodies man the booth.

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An oasis of fresh seafood in the desert — OJ being nowhere near either the Pacific Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico.

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They start with salted corn tostadas, then add cold boiled shrimp, avocado, cucumber, cilantro, onion, tomato and ketchup.

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Part of the day’s haul; the rest is in the backseat.

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The exterior of JM Dry Goods, which is situated down the street from one of the town's best galleries, Ballroom Marfa.

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The pottery from the outdoor market becomes a display after all, holding Teague’s Moroccan napkins.

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The pig finds a temporary new home inside the store.

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Griffice’s glasses. Besides Topo Chico, she also makes a line of glasses from bottles of Sol, the Mexican beer.