Whenever I have foreign guests flying into town, I book them in a half-day cultural tour in Intramuros and ask them to visit our big malls.
“Come to SM Megamall!” I’d exclaim as I book them at the BSA Towers. “Its just right in front of the hotel. Just cross the street!”
Manila has been criticized for its penchant for big malls. Filipinos have no money and the city has less space, and yet, big malls are being built in every community as if they are mere 7-11s or Family Marts.
“How can one city where space is an issue have this many malls?” another author asked. Her article was published in Rappler and she criticized that malls don’t say much about our history except to highlight our materialisticness and consumerist attitudes.
I respectfully disagree with my fellow kababayan on multiple accounts. I am actually very proud of our malls. Here is an aerial view of the SM Mall of Asia:
But why you may ask?
Well, it’s all about perspective. While many people see our supermalls as hunks of steel and concrete full of materialistic shoppers, I see something else. I see:
1. The thriving of local businesses and the ingenuity of the Filipino entrepreneurial spirit.
Whenever I go around the Philippine malls, I see a healthy mixture of both international and local brands. As I walk across the shiny floors and window shop various stores, I cannot help but appreciate all the small to large businesses that make up the malls.
A lot of Filipinos made their money through the help of the malls.
Case in point is Potato Corner, a small store that sells flavored French fries that boasted php1 billion of sales in 2015.
Potato Corner bags P1-billion sales in 2015
Homegrown food cart business Potato Corner had 2015 as its banner year by hitting over P1 billion ($21.36 million) in sales.
The 23-year-old company benefited from a robust domestic market, plus expansive growth network, ABS-CBN reported on March 9.
Potato Corner, whose franchisees swear success through the brand has over 550 Potato Corner stores worldwide: 90 are located in overseas markets such as Australia, Indonesia, Panama, United Arab Emirates, and the US.
There are many other success stories out there. Stories like Silverworks, Unisilver, Penshoppe, Genevieve and Gozum, People are People, Lydia’s Lechon, Chowking, Greenwich, Belgian Waffles, and more!
So while the author sees shoppers, I see local businesses. All owned and managed by entrepreneurial Filipinos.
I see jobs being created. Imagine how many cashiers and cooks Greenwich employs?
I see families being supported. Imagine how many kids can go to school because their parents have jobs? How many family members can afford to stay at home because their daughter and son are working in the mall.
I see the economy running, generating income and creating stability for the country. While other countries like China and the USA have to rely on infrastructure and government spending to make their economy go around, we Filipinos can depend on the trusty retail market to keep our economy stable.
Why do you think we Filipinos have been relatively protected from all the financial/economic crisis hit globally, aber?
2. The togetherness of the Filipino community.
In other countries, you can see people shopping. But look very closely and you can see them mostly shopping alone.
The Singaporean mother buys grocery for her family. The HK corporate yuppie shopping for clothes or shoes. The Taiwanese millennial enjoying the quiet.
But the Filipinos?
Oh, the malling is a group event.
As teenagers, their favorite hangout place is the mall. There, they window shop and watch the latest blockbuster movie. They exchange gossip over cups of Bo Coffee or if they’re financially challenged, Zagu or Fruitas.
The Filipino family goes to the mall together on daddy or mommy’s rest day. Despite their meager income, they have enough moolah to enjoy the aircon, but Jollibee for their kids, and a little more extra for a few games in the arcade.
My dad and mom, as retired senior citizens will also go to the mall. Every Wednesday, they would watch the free movie (because they’re seniors) in Rockwell and then sit by the McDonald’s sharing a hamburger as they people watch and for time to pass by. They will finish all the English movies available that week before restarting the cycle again.
I don’t see lonely people in the mall.
I see happy people in the mall.
Happy because even though life is hard, php100 is still enough to buy you food from the food court and a little extra for dessert.
3. The mall is one big convenient store. SM was correct in its tag line, “We got it all for you.”
I just love the fact you can buy anything —including the kitchen sink — in many of our supermalls.
If you want office and school supplies, you can find it at National Bookstore.
If you want affordable food with different cuisines, there’s always the food court.
If you want to buy bread, fruits, milk, potato chips and shampoo, there’s always the supermarket.
If you want to fix your home, you can find whatever you need at Ace Hardware.
If you want to buy furniture and fixings, there’s always SM Our Home and an array of different furniture stores on the 4th floor.
If you have kids, you can let them run around at Toy Kingdom or ride the token car at World of Fun arcade.
There is a section of the mall, called Cyberzone, selling all high tech items including PCs, mobile phones, cameras and other accessories.
If you want anything else, there’s always the SM Department store. Again, whatever you need, the mall has it. Why would you want to go anywhere else?
4. The mall as the great equalizer.
No matter how pretty or smart you are, no matter how big or expensive your house or car can be, and no matter how screwed up your marriage is, every mall goer will still go through the same security check, breathe in the same oxygen, and shop at SM Department Store.
I love the fact that our malls are our society’s great big equalizer. Especially as the poor gets poorer and the rich gets richer, I admittedly get off in the fact that our malls are so ubiquitous, nobody can escape the allure of the supermall.
In some countries, megastars like Britney Spears and Kim Kardashian can still close off a retail store for “privacy.” VIPs still get some extra special treatment.
Not in the Philippines.
Here, you get to touch the same clothes showcased in H&M as celebrities do. You get to see them in the same restaurants you’re eating in.
Sure, Heart Evangelista is wearing an Hermes bag that costs as much as your house, but you’re still in the same Mango or Zara store as her.
The mall is a great reminder that no matter how rich or poor we are, we still shop at one of Manila’s supermalls when we have time.
5. Lastly, the mall is part of the Filipino culture, like it or not.
If you spend most of your weekends at the mall, it inevitably shapes who you are. We were trained to be spoiled because of the mall.
If you want to buy anything, you go to the mall.
If you want to tambay (waste time), you go to the mall and enjoy the free aircon.
If you want to see the latest offerings and whatever is on trend, you go to the mall.
In the mall, all you have is to brace the heavy traffic to and fro the mall. But once you are there, you don’t really have to leave until closing time.
There is food, stuff to window shop, the movies and amusements to keep you entertained till the mall closes.
Sure, people may criticize you for not wanting to stay in the outdoors and enjoy the Philippine lovely beaches and mountains, but seriously, who would want to brave going out of town given the Manila traffic?
The mall is part of our culture. We can’t escape it no matter how hard we try. So instead of complaining about it, why don’t we savor it instead?
There are many things bad about the mall. But there are many good things as well. I hope that you can see what I see as well so you can see the good in the mall and not just the mindless consumerism seen by others.
How about you? Do you see what I see?