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Baratillo, Ukay, Bargains

Who says you can’t dress to the nines in penny-pinching times? Those who don’t know where good, affordable shopping places are.

Shopping in bargain places means getting to spend much less for knockoffs. Authentic versions, after all, could cost tenfold at the mall.Pitched the vendor, “Galing China yan, pero parang original na rin.” (It’s from China, but it’s just like the original.) He was trying to convince a customer into buying an imitation pair of low-top Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers.

Vendors often show no qualms at selling cheap, counterfeit goods to both prospective and loyal customers, who prefer affordability over quality. Real Chuck Taylors would fetch 2,390 pesos (336 yuan), but in Greenhills bargain stores, a pair costs 550 pesos (77 yuan), maybe less if you know how to haggle.

The high-end stores of Greenhills Shopping Center have their own share of customers, but most of the buyers are found nowhere near the expensive, original-goods stores. The sprawling complex in San Juan (a city situated in the central part of Metropolitan Manila) is much more popular for its bargain stalls, where vendors enjoy brisk business selling imitation products that are often just as good as the originals. For shoppers on a budget, the baratillos (flea market) of Greenhills are a perfect place to stretch bonuses and score good buys for the Christmas season.

Bargain Basement Approach
More affluent customers may disdain buying imitation Prada bags and Vans skate shoes, but that’s perfectly fine for the budget-conscious. Little wonder some Chinese factories make a good profit copying high-end brands from the United States and Europe, never mind if the practice does not do anything good to China’s manufacturing reputation.

From clothes to shoes and kitchenware, just about anything can be had at a bargain inside Greenhills’ vast warehouse. The items on sale mostly come from suppliers with connections to Chinese exporters or to local factories, who then sell the merchandise at a fraction of the price of the authentic. The imitations do not have the quality or the prestige of the originals, but many still buy them because they look remarkably similar to the real thing.

Bargain Heavens
Not all bargain products are Chinese imitations. Ukay-ukay stores sell used clothes from import outlets abroad, usually from the United States. (Roughly translated, ukay-ukay means to dig through.) Some outlets also get goods wholesale from rummage sales. It’s not uncommon to find original pairs of Levi’s jeans, Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirts, and Salvatore Ferragamo shoes in the boxes, crates, shelves and racks in an ukay-ukay.

Export overruns and imitation goods are usually sold at baratillos. For many Filipino customers, the baratillo is the best place to buy clothes, umbrellas, and shoes that have never been used before; all at rock-bottom prices. The goods, upon closer inspection, often reveal flaws or bear telltale marks of counterfeiting, but customers don’t seem to mind.

Where to Look
Apart from Greenhills, there are many other bargain hotspots in the Philippines. The Cubao district in Quezon City, for example, is home to hundreds of thrift stores. Farmers’ Plaza in Cubao is probably among the country’s oldest bargain shopping centers. Hundreds of stalls and stores line the mall’s floors, selling everything from cell phone accessories to bags.

While Divisoria in Manila and Baclaran in Pasay City were once known for their textile and curtain depot, they are now havens for bargain goods. The districts enjoy good business especially during the Holiday season, when cheap plastic toys and export overrun clothes are sold at unbelievably low prices to customers who want the best value for money, but don’t have much to spend. Divisoria also enjoys very good business before the opening of classes; parents flock to the rows of stalls for affordable uniforms and school supplies on sale.

Ortigas Center may be a stronghold of the wealthy and the corporate-types, but it has fast become a mecca for bargain hunters. Saint Francis Square (located at the corner of Doña Julia Vargas Avenue corner Bank Drive) is a shopping heaven. The mall is literally a maze of kiosks where everything from footwear and T-shirts are available at a fraction of the price of the authentic versions found at SM Megamall just across the street.

Two hundred and fifty kilometers north of Metro Manila is Baguio City, the epicenter of the ukay mania. Thousands of visitors go there not only for the cool climate and the pine-scented air, but also for the many second-hand goods sold at Harrison Road and Abanao Road. The more hardcore bargain junkies go there for used North Face jackets and Timberland and Hi-Tec hiking boots.

For the Chinese, Hong Kong is the ultimate destination for bargain goods and imitation products. The former British colony is living proof that the Chinese government is on an uphill battle to curb the influx of counterfeits. Many of the contraband—from pirated video discs to factory-made imitation Swiss Army knives—are, ironically, from the mainland itself.

Getting it Cheap
Even if bargain products are already sold at ridiculously low prices, many customers want to pay even less. A 25% markdown from the asking price is usually the strategy that works for many veteran bargain shoppers. Some of the more experienced buyers even demand with a straight face as much as 50% off the price tag.

Hard times have also brought the bargain goods industry to households. In places like Krus na Ligas in Quezon City (a community within the University of the Philippines), many homeowners have also started selling bargain goods to neighbors and passers-by. Informal bargain outlets are turning in good numbers selling rummaged goods, headbands, pens, handbags, and even imitation sunglasses

So who’s afraid of bargain items? Definitely not the throng that flocks to Greenhills, Divisoria, Farmer’s Plaza, Baclaran, or Saint Francis Square. Besides, some bargain goods are almost as good as the real thing. And in these times of penny-pinching austerity, that’s all the bargain junkies have to hear.

Print ed: 12/08


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