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Sari-Sari


January, 2002

Sari-sari store photo.
1. Sari-sari store (67k)
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The store owner.
2. The store owner (77k)
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Products for sale.
3. Sari-Sari products (80k)
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Another Sari-Sari store.
4. Another store (85k)
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Every where we go, we find Sari-Sari stores. They are privately operated, often from a window in a home, and carry small quantities of a wide variety of products. They are typically operated by a woman, though we have seen some men. The area in which we are living is quite rural. and a bus ride into the nearest town costs 12 pesos (24¢) each way. The minimum wage is 137 pesos ($2.75) per day, although I think that many people make less than this, and the bus ride alone is a big expense. The Sari-Sari owners go into town once a week or so and buy things at the supermarket to bring back to their stores to sell. Of course, they mark up the prices a bit to make a living. They also sell soft drinks and beer, which are delivered by large trucks, and a locally produced alcoholic beverage called tuba. The stores frequently provide covered benches for people to sit on while they drink.

Most of the products carried by the Sari-Sari stores are packaged in small, single-use packets. These often sell for just a peso or two. You can even buy cigarettes one at a time. The obvious reason for this is that most people here are very poor, and cannot afford to buy in larger volumes. The culture also encourages these single use packets. For example, many people bathe at a communal water source, often outside. (They bathe with their clothes on.) If you were to arrive with a bottle of shampoo, your friends and neighbors would all ask to borrow the use of your shampoo, and your expensive bottle would be used up very quickly. Sharing is very much expected, and to refuse such a request would be a serious matter. By arriving with a small packet of shampoo, there is no problem with sharing.

We shop at the same supermarkets where the Sari-Sari owners buy their supplies. Most things are available in a wide range of sizes, to suit all incomes. Although we generally buy things in the larger bottles, we have noticed that there is seldom any savings by doing so. There is little or no premium to be paid for all the extra packaging that goes into the little packets. Sometimes they are actually cheaper than the equivalent quantity in the largest bottles.

With rare exceptions, the Sari-Sari stores are not self service. The owner sits at a small window behind metal bars, and hands you whatever you request. The stores generally provide some credit to people who run up a bill between paydays. This "line of credit" is quite limited, perhaps 200-300 pesos ($4 - $6). Even so, one non-paying customer can wipe out the Sari-Sari store's minimal profits for the day.

We seldom shop at the Sari-Sari stores, as we have easy transportation into Tagbilaran once a week and a small refrigerator. We do not generally buy fresh produce at the supermarket, as we have found that the quality is better at the local market in Panglao. (There is a Sari-Sari near us that sells vanilla ice cream, which is seldom available elsewhere, and we do indulge once in a while.)

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Jim and Jamie Richter, http://gotouring.com/razzledazzle/
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Created 1/2002. All photos are © 2002 Jim Richter.