You’ll see a lot of Sari-sari stores in the Philippines. This is a fun part of the culture. Sari-sari stores are cute little vending shops, often attached to people’s houses (but they can also be free-standing). I like to think of them as kind of a mix between a vending machine and a very small convenience store. They are like vending machines in that you can’t go inside — there is a long counter, usually with a gated window of some sort covered in wire/bars, and a small opening where you pay and then they hand out the item to you. Many of the items are hung up for display and to save space.
They are like convenience stores in that they carry a variety of convenience items. In fact, sari-sari in Tagalog means “variety.” Sari-sari stores offer all kinds of snacks, such as crackers, cookies, chocolates, candies, and soft drinks. Usually they carry the basic daily necessities for cooking, such as eggs, rice, onions, oil, salt, pepper, as well as other day-to-day personal items, like toothpaste, shampoo, and laundry soap. Items are almost always sold by smaller amounts or in individual packets to make it more affordable for Filipinos who live day to day and can’t afford buying in bulk. Sari-sari stores make up an important part of the country’s economy. Some sari-sari stores often also sell ice pops, fruit juice, homemade goods, and even ice cream in some cases.
On my mission, I loved sari-sari stores. It was nice to have the option of grabbing a quick snack or drink while we were out, since there were sari-sari stores practically on every corner. It was also a natural gathering place that often presented some good opportunities for sharing the gospel.
If no one is in the store, you just holler “Pabili po!” (a request to buy something) and someone will come out and help you.
Filipinos know some items by their brand. For example, if buying toothpaste, it’s common to ask for “Colgate.”
*Article contributed by Rebecca, Philippines Baguio Mission, 2009-2011