EDITORIAL: Over a Cup of Tea

Back to Filipino economic tradition: Rise of small village stores during the pandemic

A typical sari-sari store in my barangay has all basic household needs available for sale at very reasonable cost.

By Heidi M. Pascual

If there is another positive aftermath during the COVID-19 pandemic, aside from families being closer and together due to lockdowns, I can cite the sprouting of many small sari-sari stores and carinderias (food stalls) in every barangay in my original country, the Philippines. Before the pandemic, these stores were almost wiped out by the big malls and supermarkets that literally littered towns and cities all over. Most of these big malls and supermarkets are owned by wealthy Chinese, who also own many manufacturing companies that produce ALL kinds of products, similar to what we buy at Walmart.

These Filipino sari-sari stores came back to life because people needed groceries and many household necessities and they can buy them without leaving their places of residence. The stores are usually located right at the seller’s homes fronting the road. The pandemic situation actually gave these families who now run sari-sari stores decent incomes while working at home! It’s a tough job, though, but before COVID-19, a lot of these families were having trouble finding good-paying jobs.

A close friend of mine who owns one of these stores in my barangay wakes up at 3 a.m. everyday, and is driven to the public market by her husband using their family tricycle. She buys items at a big grocery beside the wet market where she gets fish, pork and chicken which will fit into her freezer. My friend also sells soda and bread from a bakery in the same market. All of the small store owners in our barangay do the same, and I heard that most of them are doing well, financially. I notice that the daughters of my friend also have a small cart beside the store where they sell ready-to-eat food like banana cue (sweetened banana [saba] on stick) and fried veggie rolls. I am sure most family members help each other this way, considering that good-paying jobs are so rare at this time.

These food stalls and sari-sari stores are truly a blessing especially for senior citizens who, during total lockdowns, are not allowed to get out of their residences. I depend on these stores most times. If my garden doesn’t provide the food supply I need for certain kitchen need, I simply walk a short distance (fully masked, of course) of about 20 meters to the store to get what my recipe for the day requires. And if I am lazy to cook, I just go buy home-cooked hot meals at a carinderia just a few steps from my gate. I’d say it’s a win-win situation… more people in the community are earning while filling a need during the pandemic.

I am not sure how long this situation will go on, but I am grateful that many people in my barangay actually have “jobs” with decent pay nowadays. Even after the pandemic, I hope that our old economic tradition of sari-sari stores and carinderias remain and become successful. I used to like going to malls, but now, I admit I prefer staying at home, tending my garden, and buying basics from our little stores. It’s like patronizing my countrymen while taking care of my health, as well.