At the corner of Valencia Street and Rizal Avenue on Wednesday, the small but ubiquitous Kitkat’s Boutique has suddenly sprung to life with shoppers. The reason is not something to feel good about — the famous little gift shop is on closing-out sale.
What used to be a popular go-to store for city shoppers of dressing and fashion apparel is closing its business for good by the end of July, and is currently disposing of its remaining inventory.
Kitkat’s Boutique, the pioneering small store selling fashionable clothes, accessories, and gift items, is one of the many small businesses around town that have been struggling for survival amidst the economic crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Owner Margarette Lumauag swore there was simply no revenue for the store to keep itself afloat, after several months of quarantine. And the longer the crisis, the more it is taking a toll on her small business operation.
Some 40 years after bringing different clothing styles to Palaweños, Lumauag admitted she did not imagine doing a going-out-of-business-sale this way. But reality has struck and is causing turmoil throughout the local retail industry.
Lumauag said she can no longer cope with her overhead expenses because her finances have been stretched out.
“Overhead expenses, hindi ko na kakayanin. Sa panahon na ito, madugo. Number 1 kong consideration ang rental. Ang salaries hindi masyado kasi minimum na yong tao ko, unlike before na ang tao ko ay todo-todo. Nagbawas na rin ako [ng tao]. Kuryente at rental ko ang pinaka mabigat — overhead ang nakakalumpo,” she told Palawan News.
Even as the government prepares to allow nonessential retail stores to open, Lumauag said four months of temporary closure has severely impacted her business, and closing it is the only solution left to her.
It was rough for her and her family to end Kitkat’s Boutique as it has been a significant part of the community and their life, but she has accepted that it is time to let it go.
“Sobra [ang effect ng pandemic] kasi uunahin muna ng tao ang tiyan nila kasi sa akin parang luxury item na ‘yan. Kapag may extra ka, saka ka bibili ng damit, hindi ba? Pinag-isipan ko rin nang husto kasi hindi natin alam kung kailan ito tatagal. Years pa rin ako mababaon sa kababayad nang kababayad. Kung puwesto ko lang, okay lang kaso hindi, pumapatak ang metro ko araw-araw,” she said.
She said Kitkat’s Boutique has brought her countless blessings. It was her baby, it was her go-to place whenever she is around and not traveling, and it was where people bought items as gifts for their loved ones when there were no malls yet.
But through prayers, she said she has accepted the Kitkat’s Boutique’s fate.
“Acceptance, pinag-pray ko ng husto, pinag-pray ko ng matagal ‘yan. Maraming sleepless nights, maraming iyakan, hanggang ngayon naiiyak ako sa posts ng friends ko. Maraming consideration pero ‘yon nga, kailangan mo i-let go ang isang bagay, hindi habambuhay na hawak mo. Nagkaka-edad na rin ako, buong 40 years ko ibinuhos ko na rito,” Lumauag said, eyes tearing.
Giving life to Kitkat’s Boutique
Lumauag said she launched the first ready-to-wear (RTW) boutique in the city in 1980 as a means to augment her husband’s income.
She set it up near the public market in a small place, where foot traffic was high. However, she had to leave it despite the affordable rent because it has no comfort room and other amenities.
“Para kang nanganganak kasi hindi mo alam, first time ako nagbukas ng aking shop, first puwesto ko talaga dyan sa public market. Maliit lang, napakaliit, at walang CR. Bandang hapon para ka nang may lagnat sa sobrang init. Excited ako noon, in-open ko kasi siya para may dagdag income, makatulong sa husband ko dahil that time, ang suweldo lang niya ay P350 a month, paano ka mabubuhay?” she said.
She said Kitkat’s Boutique focused on selling Japan’s Sanrio products — stationeries, pencils, pens, and papers, and Hello Kitty items.
Had she known she would close the shop, she said she would have taken a lot of photos when it was still selling the popular Japanese brand.
“College pa lang ako nagtitinda-tinda na ako, doon talaga ako nag-start talaga ng selling. Lumaki lang noong nagka-boutique na, ini-emphasize ko noon yong Sanrio items. Iyon ang kinalolokohan noong 80s, original Sanrio items,” she said.
Iyong logo ko noon ay puro Sanrio items, wala lang akong na-save, sayang, ‘di uso yong picture-picture noon,” Lumauag added.
Lumauag said that when she ventured to RTWs, she only introduced it to her friends until the circle grew. This encouraged her to diversify from Sanrio items to clothes and other apparels.
Then the Bench brand came. She said Kitkat’s Boutique was given the opportunity to sell its products to Palaweños without traveling to Manila.
Store’s golden memories
When the Philippine retail brand became popular, everyone was looking for Bench products to wear and make up their closets — young professionals, men and women.
Lumauag said that it was only her store that brought a “Buyer Show” in the city up until now. In those years, there was no other boutique store in the city that was able to do the same.
During their Kitkat’s Boutique’s silver anniversary in 2005, she brought the pop band Cueshe and actress-model Francine Prieto as special guests. The following years saw the boutique also bringing fashion shows featuring more entertainment personalities such as Rica Peralejo and Alessandra de Rossi.
Kitkat’s also led the way in the holding of beauty pageants and competitions like Miss Puerto and Mutya ng Palawan, regularly sponsoring fashion wears even in town competitions.
“Nag-start ako sa Badjao Inn, dyan kami nagkaroon ng buyer show. Dala-dala ko yong first items ko, damit, pantalon, blouses. Ang in-invite ko noon ay clients and friends talaga, imo-model ng models ko, may numbering ‘yon. Kung anong gusto nila ay binibili nila after the fashion show. Since fashion ang negosyo, fashion shows ang talagang ginawa ko,” she said.
Remaining days of operation
Lumauag recalled how friends helped her business. The same friends who are with her now, showing kindness as she holds her clearance sale.
“Makikita mo sila through the year tapos sasabihin na ‘suot ko pa yong binili ko sa iyo’. Kilala ko kasi ang items ko, isa-isa lang ‘yan, walang dodoble ‘yan. Kahit ilang taon na, kilala ko kapag galing sa akin. Matutuwa ka na ilang taon na, nandyan pa rin sa kanila, gamit pa rin nila kaya lalo ako na-inspire na maghanap ng panibagong items, mas magaganda,” she said.
“Ang choice ko kahit mura, gut feel, kapag hindi ko type, hindi ko kukunin. Kahit gaano kamahal, kapag gusto ko siya, kasi gusto ko, gusto rin ng iba. Mami-miss ko ang mga bagay na ganito na ginagawa ko para sa boutique,” she said.
From July 7 to July 31, Kitkat’s will do its clearance sale, hoping that the locals will come to buy what they can consider their “remembrance”.
“Welcome na welcome sila sa Kitkat’s from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., sana maka-avail pa sila ng items na one of a kind. Yan na muna lahat ngayon, wala pa akong masasabi kung ano ang susunod,” she said.
(With reports from Romar Miranda and Ruth Rodriguez)