I am pleased to announce that my poetry books have made it to that most significant element of Philippine culture: the sari sari store! My book THE THORN ROSARY is now carried in Dona Tilan Valdez’s tienda in Ilocos Sur, Philippines. This, of course, is the kind of innovative grass roots move that a poet must do to allow her poems to reach a wide-ranging audience even as capitalism continuously reduces poetry distribution venues (that be the theory component of this blog post. Anyway…) From Wikipedia, that fount of information whether true or not: “Dickie Aguado of Magna Kultura Foundation notes that the Sari-sari store is part of Philippine culture, … an integral part of every Filipino’s life. It is a constant feature of residential neighborhoods in the Philippines both in rural and urban areas, proliferating even in the poorest communities.”
To celebrate, I’ve remixed—a la “halo halo”—Wikipedia’s entry on the sari-sari store with photos from Dona’s store. You’ll see Dona below, and also her son Eudy – Dona, tell him he can have anything he wants from your store for posing with my books!
THE SARI-SARI AND POETRY HALO-HALO
A sari-sari store is a convenience store found in the Philippines. The word sari-sari is Tagalog meaning "variety". Such stores form an important economic and social location in a Filipino community. It is present in almost all neighborhoods, sometimes even on every street. Most sari-sari stores are privately owned shops and are operated inside the shopkeeper's house. Commodities are displayed in a large screen-covered or metal barred window in front of the shop. Candies in recycled jars, canned goods and cigarettes are often displayed while cooking oil, salt and sugar are often stored at the back of the shop. A small window is also present where the customer's requested commodity is given. A cigarette lighter tied to the window can also be found. Benches and sometimes tables are also provided in front of the sari-sari store. A shade is placed above it which is also used to cover the large window when the store closes.
The sari-sari store allows members of the community easy access to basic commodities at low costs. In the Philippines, following the concept of tingi or retail, a customer can buy 'units' of the product rather than whole package. For example, one can buy a single cigarette for one peso (0.02 US dollars) rather than a whole pack. This is convenient for those who cannot buy the whole package or do not need much of it.
The sari-sari store also saves the customer extra transportation costs, especially those in rural areas, since some towns can be very far from the nearest market or grocery. The store also serves as a secondary or even primary source of income for the shopkeepers. The owners can buy commodities in bulk in groceries then sell them in the store at a mark-up price. Trucks usually deliver LPG and soft drinks to the store itself. The store requires little investment since the products are cheap and only a few modifications on one side of a house are needed to convert it to a sari-sari store.
The sari-sari store also allows credit purchases from its "suki" (repeat customers known to the store owners). They usually keep a record of their customers' outstanding balances on a school notebook and demand payments on paydays.
Often sari-sari store owners put a markup of about 10% on average, compared to the 20% markup average of the alternative 24/7 convenience stores such as 7-11, so most Filipinos tend to buy at sari-sari stores whenever possible.
According to Dickie Aguado, Executive Director of Magna Kultura Foundation, the network of Sari-sari stores nationwide account for almost seventy per cent (70%) sales of manufactured consumer food products, which makes it a valuable part of the economy and an important conduit for making vital goods available to Filipino neighborhood communities. Aguado adds that, while the Sari-sari store owners are small business people, they are the backbone of the grassroots economy. It is estimated that 800,000 sari-sari stores hold a substantial portion of the Philippine retail market, and accounts for a significant chunk of the country’s GDP. About 13 percent or Php 1.3 trillion of the Philippines GDP of Php 9.7 trillion in Y-2011 came from retail, which is composed largely of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) or small businesses like sari-sari stores. While many of the Sari-sari store owners may be un-schooled in business, they are an integral part of the eco-system of society and contribute to the grassroots micro-economy.
About ninety-three percent (93%) of all Sari-sari stores nationwide are located in residential communities. The neighborhood Sari-sari store (variety or general) is part and parcel of daily life for the average Filipino. Any essential household good that might be missing from one’s pantry –-- from basic food items like sugar, coffee and cooking condiments, to other necessities like soap or shampoo –-- is most conveniently purchased from the nearby Sari-sari store at economically-sized quantities which are affordable to common citizens.
The sari-sari store offers a place where people can meet. The benches provided in front of the store are usually full of men and women. Some men would spend some time drinking while women discuss the latest local news. Youths also use the place to hang out. Children would also rest here in the afternoon after playing and buy soft drinks and snacks.
Pinoy rock band Eraserheads' song Tindahan ni Aling Nena (aling Nena's Store; from the album UltraElectroMagneticPop!) tells the story of a man buying food at a sari-sari store and his attempts to court the affections of the eponymous storeowner's daughter.
Thanks to Dona for distributing THE THORN ROSARY. If you're not lucky enough to live in the Philippines and would like a copy, other distribution venues are cited HERE.