MULTIMEDIA

A year of challenges: Small business owner reels from COVID-19 and Ulysses

Photos and text by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 21 2020 04:31 AM

Shop owner Alejandro Santiago walks inside his empty workshop in Marikina City on Friday, a week after Typhoon Ulysses battered parts of Luzon. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

A week after Typhoon Ulysses wreaked havoc on various parts of Luzon, 54-year old Alejandro Santiago opened the doors to his shop near the Marikina Riverbanks.

He was there not to serve customers, but to take stock of what else needs to be done after clearing most of the mud and debris after most of Marikina was submerged in flood water.

“Pagtuyo ng putik inumpisahan na namin, pag-kati ng tubig sinabayan na namin ng linis,” he said of his shop Santricks Leather Works.

With the river’s water level reaching up to 21 feet during the height of the typhoon, Santiago’s shop was just one of the many establishments and homes that were affected by the torrential rains and high floods that came with Ulysses, reviving painful memories of Tropical Storm Ondoy in 2009.

“Akala namin hindi na rin mauulit ang Ondoy, pero mas mataas pa pala,” he said.

With typhoons Quinta and Rolly hardly having any effect on the city, Santiago had no reason to think that Ulysses would be any different.

“Yung Rolly parang hindi namin naramdaman, pero iba itong si Ulysses.”

Some of the leather footwear Santiago was able to save from the flood. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

He said they started moving things inside the shop to the second floor as the flood started to rise. “Nung una, mabagal ang pagtaas, nag aangat lang kami ng gamit namin sa shop.”

Unfortunately the flood did not stop rising. “Nung umabot na loob ng first floor napatingin na lang ako, nakakapanlumo. Sabi ko sa tauhan ko, tigilan na natin ang pag akyat ng mga gamit, tutukan na natin yung itaas ng bahay.”

This is not the first challenge that Santiago and other shop owners faced in Marikina, which is famous for leather goods.

His shop was also severely affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, being forced to shut down during the various lockdown measures implemented to curb the spread of the disease.

“Walang gumagamit ng sapatos,” he said.

Some of the face masks being sold. The masks were initially made for personal use during the pandemic but gained popularity from customers. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

“Nakaahon lang kami dahil nag-switch kami sa paggawa ng leather face mask," he said. “Una, gumawa lang ako para sa pamilya ko, tapos napapansin na ng mga tao kasi personalized, ayun naka pick-up.”

He said the earning from the masks was where gets the money he needs for his wife and son’s medical needs. His wife Lilia has diabetes while his son also needs weekly maintenance medication to calm a nerve-related condition, spending upwards of P4,000 a week.

“Maganda, ganda na nga sana ang takbo ng face masks tulad nito,” he said. Aside from the masks, Santiago also made other leather products for restaurants and malls which provided him a steady source of income. Some of his profits went to upgrading equipment and materials needed for his craft.

“Kaso dumating naman itong bagyo.”

He said all these and the leather they stocked to make products were submerged in the flood.

“Huhugasan mo 'yan, papatuyuin, bubugahan mo ng degreaser,” he said, noting the things needed to do to get the machines working again.

“Nabasa na nabaon pa sa putik, kaya nung nakikita ko nanlulumo ako. Eto lahat ng gamit namin sa bahay.”

Another problem is all the leather stocked in the shop. “Kakailanganin ko ng P300,000 para ma re-process ang mga balat.”

“Pagka na-production 'yan, million na yan. Kaya kailangan gastusan talaga. Sabay-sabay ang paggawa niyan,” he said.

But with everything that has happened, Santiago is still thankful for his customers, many of whom are the same ones who helped him get back on his feet after the devastation of Ondoy. Several suppliers also offered start-up capital so he could regain his business, which he in turn reciprocated with profitable business deals.

“Hindi naman ako nawalan ng buyer. Ang buyer naman hindi naman umaalis yan,” he says.

“Alam kasi nila hindi ako tumatanggi sa trabaho, pag may magpapa-gawa, kahit konti or marami, tinatanggap ko.”

“Back to zero na naman kami,” Santiago said of the losses he incurred during the flood. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Santiago looks at a water-damaged jacket that was custom-ordered. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Shoe patterns kept together, ready to be used for future orders. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Some of the shoes damaged during the flood. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The shelves of the workshop lay empty a week after flood waters ravaged Santricks Leather Works. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Santiago inspects his shop which remains closed due to flood damage caused by Typhoon Ulysses. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Santiago looks at photographs of supporters and clients hanging inside the shop. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Santiago inspects his shop which remains closed due to flood damage caused by Typhoon Ulysses. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Santiago needs to spend some P300,000 to process the leather so it can be used. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Shoe molds lie in disarray around the shop, some carried away by the flood. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

A leather mold machine needs to be washed, dried, and degreased to be usable again. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Santiago talks about a possible leather product with a colleague outside his shop. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Aside from making products, the shop also accepts repairs and alterations. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Santiago inspects his shop which remains closed due to flood damage caused by Typhoon Ulysses. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The facade of Santricks Leather Works. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News