Some time in 2001, I went to Dumaguete to check on my sister. My Dad gave me the task of seeing what was taking her so long to graduate. To my surprise, it was not anything negative at all. It was simply that her life as a Silliman University co-ed was so vibrant and filled with purpose that I believe was the reason she decided to linger.
There is something else that I found, it was the university town factor and the mysterious charm of the people, and I was infected by it right there and then. I thanked my lucky stars I found the perfect setting for what was then an unconscious search for a work haven. I quickly went back to Zamboanga City and proposed marriage to Jana Jumalon, a visual artist and the perfect companion for my lifetime adventure.
Work and travel were my triggers, and the trajectory took me to this city that constantly reinvents itself and at the same time keeps its rustic small town charm. The reinvention is done with intellectual means, and this was a trap that Jana and I willingly fell into. That was sixteen years ago.
“Local support, when tapped in the right way, is the actual market driver in Dumaguete.”
Our life in Dumaguete started with just one computer. From the start, I realized that local support, when tapped in the right way, is the actual market driver here. You cannot move or make waves without people agreeing with or admiring what you are trying to achieve. In a city of intellectuals, admiration for your work is a real factor for good business.
Two years ago, Jana and I decided to open Subida Souvenirs in the hillside of Valencia, the neighboring town of Dumaguete. It was the product of long years of working with what we knew and what we had. It was a process that made us meet and make friends with interesting people. From grassroots folks, divas, professors and students, artists, the culture here was a natural open base for the products we developed.
When they saw how our work supported local native arts and crafts, people became involved with the venture. They shared their ideas, they encouraged us to keep on working to find the most unique and charming things that define Dumaguete, the province of Negros Oriental and the Philippines in general.
It was a wave of inspiration provided by these friends that led us to open the shop confidently even if the location is some ways away from the city proper. When they heard we were starting, they pitched in with their various talents. People like craftsmen, digital artists, good looking models, wordsmiths and IT experts. In return, we give our many skilled craftsmen, talented artist friends and artisans a platform to display their works through Subida Souvenirs. Government offices like the DTI and DOST, and their wonderful staff, offered what it can to help when we asked and when we did not.
What I learned is that, Dumagueteños are picky in a good way. They do not want to go somewhere just because it is in a mall or a popular fast food chain or choose a service just because it comes from the metropolis. There has to be something else that identifies a business or service as really belonging to the local scene, with Filipino values and talent. They support local efforts of illustrators, photographers, tour guides and the like if they find it appealing to the local culture. Dumaguete will welcome anyone who wants to give their dreams a shot but they will ultimately make their pick.
Currently, there are many talents, shops and great diners here that are flourishing. Some are run by locals, and some are transplants that have found acceptance with local tastes. Here, people like it affordable, not something priced way out like big city places.
But with the skyrocketing cost to rent a space in the city, these businesses will thrive only if there is local support. If you have friends and family visiting, don’t take them to McDonald’s, they will not have any shortage of customers. Take them to local diners like El Amigo BBQ or Gabby’s Bistro or even the carinderia behind the LTO building that serves the best beef stew. Recommend a local photographer, a local dive instructor or a local delicacy. Bring them to local places that offer the classic charms of this university town at very affordable rates.
That is the way businesses in Dumaguete have survived all these years. Personally, I believe the homegrown talents, neighborhood shops and local diners are the soul of this city. The experience of supporting local is both great as well as one you and the business people can cherish. This is the way that the city trade services, goods and culture. It is part of the mysterious charm I found when I first came here, and it still is magical to me.