Sari-sari store is the term used in the Philippines for a small convenience store, from the word sari-sari meaning “a variety.” It sells various everyday necessities in small packages or by the piece, a practice called “tingi.” For instance, shampoo can be purchased not by the bottle but by the sachet. There are miniature packets of just about every commonly needed item, from little single-serve bags of snacks to tiny plastic bags with a few peppercorns. Cigarettes are sold by the stick, eggs and onions by the piece, rice by the kilo.
The store is often attached to or part of the owner’s house but it may also be a freestanding store just in front of the owner's house or some distance away. Many stores have advertising material alongside the store name on their signboards.
Sari-sari stores vary in appearance but they all have certain traits in common. First, the customers are barred from entering by a long counter in front. Sometimes the front is covered with metal bars as well, with an opening for passing money and purchases. Many items are hung from the ceiling or on the walls to save space. Candies and other small items sold by the piece are in jars. A lighter is provided when cigarettes are sold, tied to a string whose other end is attached to the counter or the ceiling. Often it is not possible for every kind of item the store carries to be displayed, but customers are usually secure in the knowledge that the most basic needs will be sold. When shopping, they note whether the store carries the items they need, for future reference.
The shopkeeper waits on customers inside the store. Sometimes benches and tables are also provided in front. A shade is placed above it which is also used to cover the large window when the store closes.
Where they are found
Sari-sari stores are found almost anywhere in the Philippines; it is a favorite small-scale business to enter into. In some areas several stores are even found next to each other. It is a necessity in rural and depressed neighborhoods where it would be difficult for residents to go to a supermarket or to purchase anything there even if they could go. By buying in such miniscule amounts, the poorer customers are able to purchase items within their budget which they would be unable to do in bulk. For those who do not have refrigerators, it is also the only means to have a cold drink; most sari-sari stores have refrigerators and sell cold drinks. For the richer folk, it is a convenience for when they run out of necessary ingredients or crave soft drinks or snacks; household help and children are usually the ones who go to the sari-sari stores in middle-class subdivisions.
In most neighborhoods, the sari-sari store is also a favorite place to hang out. Housewives making purchases meet and chat in front; the local youth purchasing drinks and snacks gather there. More than just a convenience store, the sari-sari store is often the hub of the neighborhood, the place to share and catch up on gossip. It is as much a part of everyday Filipino life as the jeepney.
Locals who belong to the lower middle-class are the usual patrons of the so-called pautang or palista (debt) practice. Since some buyers do not have the means to pay on the same day, they may place their purchases on a tab and just pay their debt once they have money.
Some say sari-sari stores promote bad habits, encouraging Filipinos to fall into debt by borrowing beyond their means. Others say it could be a good thing because it supposedly triggers small-scale consumer-driven economic activity.
Its importance to Filipinos and the Philippine economy
Dickie Aguado, Executive Director of Magna Kultura Foundation, notes that the Sari-sari store is part of Philippine culture, and they have become 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. 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 economicaly-sized quantities which are affordable to common citizens.
According to Aguado, 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. Despite of the entry of big-box superstores and franchise convenience stores, the Sari-sari's will never disappear in communities as they have become part of mainstream Filipino culture.
- Philippine Insider. (accessed on November 11, 2008).
- Joan Joyce blog. (accessed on November 11, 2008).
- GMA News. (accessed on November 11, 2008).
- http://www.philippines-travel-guide.com/sari-sari-store.html Sari-sari store
- Magna Kultura Foundation: Empowering Sari-Sari Stores In The Philippines