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It can be found throughout every city, many villages, each neighborhood, at almost every corner of any street, in residential areas and even in the poorest squatter communities. It is the oldest and smallest kind of store in the country, the Sari-Sari store is a unique part and a common essentiality of everyday life for the Filipino people.
Sari-Sari means "various kinds", referring to the goods that are available in a wide range of sorts and sizes, from candies, detergent, soap, toothpaste, canned goods, coffee, soft drinks and ice-cold beer, instant canton noodles to a load for your cell phone. Cigarettes can be bought by the stick, shampoo in miniature sachets and many other things. Most basic necessities are sold in single-use packets (tingi), allowing everyone to purchase the goods they need, at an affordable price and at any convenient time, of course with an exception for the afternoon siesta. The store owner is repacking its merchandise into smaller quantities, various kind of food like rice, salt, pepper and sugar is sold in tiny plastic bags. Cooking oil, soy sauce, vinegar and even gasoline is measured in cups and then poured into a bottle or glass that the shopper brought with him. Now and then soft drinks are sold in a plastic bag, several customers can not pay for the deposit for the bottle or do not want to return later to get their down payment back.
Typical Sari-Sari stores, especially in the provinces have their colorful, assorted items displayed in a big open framework covered with chicken wire and iron bars, with an opening for passing goods and money. Small items such as candies and cigarettes are placed in plastic jars, so a customer can pinpoint the goods he or she wants to buy. Wooden tables and benches are set up in front of the shop for their patrons, this hangout (tambayan) offers a shelter from the hot sun during day time and gives refuge from the tropical rainfall. It is a place where you can meet friends and neighbours and catch up on the local gossip (chismis) around the block whenever you like. It is the prime hub of social activity in the community, a perfect location to meet each other after a hard days work and to drink some cold beers, soft drinks, a cup of coffee or just having a smoke in the evening while enjoying the locally produced liquor called tuba (fermented sap of palms).
For many local and foreign visitors, a Sari-Sari Store is considered the second to none meeting place to mingle with the residents. Filipinos are easy-going, always friendly and very hospitable, the stand is an excellent place to meet old friends (kaibigan) and make new ones. It is a great opportunity to learn and understand more about the people, their way of life and a unique chance to get a glimpse into the authentic regional culture.
The Philippine Sari-Sari store is not just a mainstream outlet, it is not only a small mom and pop shop, it is your shopper’s convenience, it is much more than a home-based marketplace.
It is a neighborhood institution, a vital lifeline deeply grounded in the community, a small time creditor in hard times for the impoverished residents, but most of all it reflects the endurance and flexibility of the Filipino people.