Here’s a fun piece of Philippines culture.
What comes to mind when most people talk about convenience stores are places like 7-11. They have 7-11s in the Philippines too, but the purest version of a convenience store looks nothing like a 7-11. In the Philippines, a convenience store is a sari-sari store.
The store gets its name from the Tagalog word sari-sari, which means “variety” or “sundry”. You can buy anything in a sari-sari store, from canned food to mobile data and everything in between, in small convenient packs. You also buy things per piece, like candy, gum, razor, and female hygiene products.
Another reason a sari-sari store is more convenient than your typical 7-11 is that you’ll find a sari-sari store anywhere in the Philippines. Whether you’re staying in a crowded metropolis or a remote island, you can always count on the fact that there will always be sari-sari within a few blocks.
You can find sari-sari stores everywhere in the Philippines because they’re so cheap and easy to set up. You don’t need a lot of capital to start, and most of what you need to sell can be bought in large groceries or big box stores. You don’t even need to build a store to have a sari-sari store. Just set a table in front of your house, display your items, and boom, you have a store.
Sari-sari stores hold a lot of social and economic importance in Filipino culture. It’s where most people gather and get their basic needs like food, first aid, and even banking. It’s also something people can rely on when times are hard, thanks to its low prices and most store owners’ willingness to let people buy on credit.
The sari-sari store is also the most common type of business in the Philippines. Sari-sari stores account for 70% of sales of manufactured consumer food products. It also contributes Php 1.3 trillion to the Philippine GDP. Many successful business owners in the Philippines learned how to run a business by opening a sari-sari store.
Technically, you’re supposed to register your sari-sari store as a business with the government. Still, they often tolerate unregistered sari-sari stores because they contribute greatly to the local economy. A successful sari-sari store can encourage competition from neighbors to build their own stores, or they can build other businesses that complement the store, like barbershops or food stalls. In some cases, it can even transform the neighborhood into a commercial area, forcing the existing businesses to register and pay taxes to the local government.
This isn’t unique to Philippines culture, but it’s different than most places in the USA.