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Tita Carms: Life as a sari-sari store owner during coronavirus outbreak

Tita Carms: Life as a sari-sari store owner during coronavirus outbreak
Tita Carms may seem unaffected by the crisis since her roadside store remains open. But it takes a lot to keep her small business going during a pandemic.

MANILA, Philippines – When the whole island of Luzon was placed on lockdown starting mid-March, several establishments shut down their operations. However, sari-sari stores like the one owned by Tita Carms were allowed to remain open.

The store of my aunt, Carmelita dela Rosa, or Tita Carms, is located on the side of the road going to the town proper of Calaca, Batangas. She opened the business in 2015 after her husband, Abel, earned enough money from his job at a large construction firm in Calaca.

Tita Carms began to man the sari-sari store to earn some extra cash. During that time, her children Lara and Tine were in college and high school, respectively.

Her store’s strategic position has pushed her to host a myriad of offerings – from basic supplies and coffee through a vending machine, to services such as photocopying. Many may think that Tita Carms is “unaffected” by the crisis since it is still business as usual. But it takes a lot to keep that going during a pandemic. (READ: ‘Sariling diskarte’: The heavy impact of lockdown on micro, small businesses)

On Mondays, Tita Carms purchases products at the Calaca Market for both her home and her store. She has to leave her house early in the morning since the grocery limits the number of customers inside unlike before when she can go anytime. 

Monday is also the only day Tita Carms’ barangay is allowed to purchase from the public market. The schedule was done to control  the volume of people in the market. 

Tita Carms said one has to head out early to avoid long lines and to get first dibs on items. She has to wait for hours until it’s her turn to enter the grocery store, where she can buy limited quantities of essential goods – the ones commonly bought from her store. She also picks up a variety of snacks and other non-essentials like canned milk and soft drinks to sell at her store for some extra profit. 

In light of the lockdown, Tita Carms has to work with a tight budget, sometimes letting go of non-essential items. 

“‘Pag ang shampoo pumatak na sa P5.60, hindi na ako bumibili, kahit na ipang-P7 o P7 (If shampoo is selling for P5.60, I don’t buy it even I can sell it for  P7 or P8),” she said. 

Before the lockdown, many suppliers used to deliver bread, medicine, and cigarettes to her sari-sari store, but the lockdown has made it  difficult for these suppliers to deliver their goods. Tita Carms has to visit multiple stores to stock her own store. (READ: With lockdowns in place, smalll restaurants worry about staying afloat)

She shared how the prices of commodities have started to fluctuate since the quarantine was imposed, forcing her to increase her prices as well. With suppliers having a hard time passing through checkpoints, some sellers opt to meet  with them instead, incurring additional costs. Other dealers increase prices as well because they monopolize the supply.

Kainaman ang itinaas ng produkto, paano ko pa ito ibebenta? Mas matindi pa ang bayan na magbenta kaysa sa amin (The price of the products increased tremendously, how can I even sell these? Those in the city proper sell at even higher prices),” she said.

Tita Carms said since the lockdown, she has been buying her cigarette stocks from her friend since it was cheaper than getting supplies from the Calaca town proper. 

Ang hirap mamalengke ngayon. Nakakasama ng pakiramdam (It’s difficult to go to the market right now, it makes me feel unwell),” she said, but added that she finds comfort in the fact that she has the option to buy from nearby sources.

Despite the difficulties of manning a sari-sari store during a pandemic, Tita Carms continues to care for her customers. She has not increased the prices of essential items such as shampoo and soap, even if this meant having a profit of only a few centavos. She also offers discounts to border frontliners and offers cellphone load in small denominations to everyone.

For Tita Carms, a good sari-sari store owner is not out to make a big profit  but to serve customers. Tita Carms believes that God will be the one who will give back to them. She keeps this outlook even if she relies on her store to help fund the education of her son, Tine, who is in a maritime school in Dasmariñas, Cavite. 

Her daughter, Lara, had already earned a BS Education in English degree.

Even with the outbreak, Tita Carms chooses to look at the silver lining and be thankful that she can still earn a little money. (READ: LIST: Government assistance for workers, businesses affected by lockdown)

Sana matapos na itong pandemic para makabalik na sa normal, magkatrabaho na ang tao (I wish that this pandemic will end so that we can go back to normal, and people can go back to work),” she said. –

Al Lumasag, 19, is a freshman taking up BS Economics at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP). He’s a contributor at the The Oikonomus Nexus, the official publication of the Department of Economics at PUP. He’s been staying in Batangas since the enhanced community quarantine was imposed. Currently, he helps his aunt in manning her sari-sari store. 

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