BEIRUT– In the midst of a terrible economic crisis—reputedly the third worst in the world—a Filipina married to a Lebanese took a stab in opening an ukay–ukay, a store selling secondhand items.
It was not in the Torredas' plan to open a store at the moment—they were waiting for Arlene's husband, Armen, to retire before opening one. But the opportunity came when Arlene's brother–in–law passed up a suitable location to open his own store.
"S'yempre, nandito tayo sa Lebanon, humahanap po tayo ng oportunidad kung sa'n po tayo makaka–survive. So naisipan po namin 'tong simpleng negosyo para din po maka–survive sa krisis," explained Arlene.
“Anthony's Ukay Ukay,” named after her son, opened in June on one of the busiest suburbs in the capital of Beirut, frequented by Filipinos. And so, her usual customers are her own kababayan (countrymen).
"Pero may mga ibang lahi rin naman na pumupunta. May mga Lebanese din, may mga Syrian din na bumibili," Arlene attested.
The store averages two to three customers per weekday and seven to 10 on Sundays, when most Filipinos have their day–off. It purchases its products from warehouses in Ain el Remmaneh, another Beirut suburb, and Tripoli, a city about an hour's drive up north.
"Ang talagang pinakamabenta namin 'yong clothes ng pambata, tapos 'yong mga bistida rin ng mga pang–dalaga," said Arlene.
Rosie Prepose, a store patron, shops at Anthony's Ukay Ukay whenever she's off from work.
"Kahit na ukay–ukay s'ya, secondhand, malinis po lahat at walang amoy, hindi po kagaya ng ibang ukayan na may amoy—may amoy sigarilyo, may amoy na stock na," shared Rosie.
But times are still hard.
"Kahit anong maliit o malaking business dito sa Lebanon, ang challenge talaga e ang rate ng dollar," rued Arlene.
The Lebanese lira is now LL19,000 per U.S. dollar, a significant drop in the exchange rate from its formerly stable rate of LL1,500 per U.S. dollar. Arlene purchased her first set of five hundred pieces of clothes for LL5,000,000 and has sold them for an average of LL25,000 per dress, LL15,000 per T–shirt, LL15,000 per baby romper, LL25,000 per pants, and LL20,000 per shorts.
Although a small store, she says she is at least breaking even and has managed to cover the store's expenses, such as rent, electricity and Internet.
She is thankful to the Lord.
"Sa tulong naman po ni Lord, nakakaraos naman po. Nakakatulong, nakaka–survive sa pang–araw–araw," stated Arlene.
As for Rosie, she makes do with part–time jobs.
"Kasi nga, alam mo na, crisis. Naglilinis ng mga bahay, office, schools, kung anong meron." Arlene prays that her small business will thrive, although if the clothes do not sell well, she and her husband are thinking of converting their ukay–ukay into a mini–mart.
"In God's will, gusto po naming magtagal, s'yempre. Nasimulan na rin naman po, 'di kung maaari din po, sana magtagal," she quipped.