Business competition leaves the sari-sari stores smiling

The smiling faces of local women in sari-sari stores are dotted along the fishing boat lined coast of Maquinit.

There are 20 variety stores, called sari-sari stores, in the 400m stretch of the quiet and intensely local coast.

In small towns like Maquinit, the social space sari-sari stores create are invaluable for community unity and bolstering the local micro economy.

“Everything the local people need is right here [in the sari-sari stores]. You only have to go into the town for meat or vegetables,”said local of over 40 years, Aurora Patricio.

Despite the small floor space, the variety stores pack in hundreds of items to serve the local needs.

Coffee, lollies, condiments, laundry products and hygiene products are commonly found in every sari-sari store. 

“It is a good relationship, the local people can buy what they need, and the shop gets money in return,” said Patricio of their importance for the local economy.

With over one million sari-sari stores across the country, they present a unique entrepreneurship opportunity.

Every sari-sari store in the tiny village of Sitio has a local socialising as she waits to greet her customers and catch up with the local news.   

Jovilyn Biaco, 26, opened her sari-sari store two years ago so she could save money for her family.

“My family is my husband, me, and my baby – in my womb” she said, circling her stomach with her hands.

“I want extra income,” she said. Her husband, like many men in the village, works on a boat.

Biaco said her best seller is coffee, and her Christmas decorations and plastic toys are also popular at this time of year.

According to veteran sari-sari shop owner, Remedios Ortego, the key to her successful store of 40 years and counting, is kindness.

“If somebody wants to buy goods from me, but they have not been paid, then I wait for them to be paid, and they can pay me later,” Ortego said.

Patricio says that the high concentration of sari-sari stores in the small space means that the competition is high, but it brings out the best.

Every sari-sari store owner we spoke to identified kindness as the quality that gave their business the competitive edge.

“The behaviour has always been full of kindness for the people who live here and also for people who visit.” said Patricio “The community is very strong. They always follow the behaviour of before [tourism has increased] so we are always hospitable.”

The sari-sari store scene continues to grow in Sitio Maquinit, as the newest store opened just two weeks ago – only metres from other neighbourhood sari-sari stores.

By Elyse Popplewell