OFFICIALLY Metro Manila has a population of about 12 million. We should note, though, that the official census doesn’t include people without any formal residence, i.e. people who have no alternative but to live on the streets as best they can, so we can bump up the official census base figure to probably at least 15 million. That’s a lot of people. What’s more, it is a big retail market, as SM and other mall developers and owners are well aware. There are lots of malls but there are literally thousands of small street-side businesses selling stuff or trying to, with varying degrees of success.
However, if you were somebody who felt like a bit of naughty fun and were in need of, say, a good quality black leather waspie, leather handcuffs, whips and restraining gear, then I suspect you would look for a long time in an SM mall, or for that matter any of the big malls— unlikely to find such stuff in Rockwell or Glorietta and certainly not Resorts World or the Shangri-la mall. So could you find it, do you think, in this mega metropolis of 15 million? Well yes, you can, by simply snooping around the internet, using the right combination of words in a search. You may find it on OLX or Sulit, even in a wide range of different colors—provided that there isn’t some sort of law against the use of such attire and equipment (which, this being the Philippines, there probably is!!).
The point here is that the malls almost invariably contain all the same retail outlets; there is always a Mercury Drug, a National Bookstore, GAP, Mango, David’s Salon, Anson’s etc, etc. It’s a bit tedious for the curious shopper who may in fact be looking for something a little bit different (leather handcuffs, for example). One of the reasons there is so much sameness, of course, is because SM or Ayala have longstanding relationships with retailers who support them—“doing another mall in Alabang,” “ok put me down for 1000m2 in a prime ground floor location”—same again, same again. This characteristic boringness is not peculiar to the Philippines; it is also very prevalent in the UK, where the “High Street” which used to be populated by bakers who made individual types of bread and cakes, butchers who made their own sausages and pies, bookshops who had selections of interesting books, and even on occasion leatherworkers who would knock you up a belt or a wallet of your own design in a few days. Alas, these trades-people have all vanished having been elbowed out of business by chain stores and supermarkets, which have taken over every High Street to make them all boringly the same. A glance through my wardrobe will allow me if my memory was good enough to date the pants that I have bought because all the shops sell the same things at the same time— try finding a pair of long pants these days not designed for men with legs like matchsticks—virtually impossible.
In order to try to do something about this and bring a bit of real interest back into shopping some students in UK are operating a system in which they list and briefly detail every single retailer and service provider in an area—produce an internet listing of them all which can be searched in many different ways, and then charge shoppers a small access fee to get to the list. This enables retailers and trades-people who cannot afford High Street rentals to at no cost to them become highly visible to a shopper market that otherwise would have little choice but to go to the “same old, same old” stores. The scheme apparently makes a profit for its owner/operators and is growing fast and bringing in a lot of extra business for the listed businesses.
That is what is being done in parts of the UK. Now just transpose that idea to Metro Manila and visualize the enormous number of small street side retailers and service providers that there are. Do a similar thing here and shopping could become fun again, instead of just a trawl around the same old mall outlets. It is quite difficult here to sometimes find what you need. I took the car all the way from Alabang to Quezon Avenue because I knew there was a place there that did leather car seat repairs, only to be told by the proprietor that there was a place doing exactly the same thing at Alabang town center. If only I’d had more information available to me . . .
And finally, it would be much easier to find where to get that set of red furry handcuffs to play with and even a pink leather waspie for Saturday night!!
Mike can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org