Melda Rivera is both the new and the old face of Fraser Street, as a neighbourhood long a haven for the city’s ethnic communities is seeing the arrival of chain grocers and shops catering to a new, young and sometimes vegan crowd.
That’s forcing existing owners like Rivera to make changes in order to keep pace, but it’s a tough fight.
“Things are starting to become busy here like Main Street,” said Rivera, a long-time grocery store owner who opened a restaurant, Pampanga’s Best Cafe, just last year in June, as a way to boost revenues after sales declined at the store.
“My restaurant is doing good here because there are a lot of Filipinos in this area,” she said. Rivera opened her cafe right across the street from another Filipino eatery, hoping to offer customers something different.
“I think only one Filipino restaurant here wasn’t enough for them, so now they have a choice,” she said.
Finding the niche
Some other shops have switched to specialty products to remain both unique and competitive.
“Before there were four grocery stores here, but now they’ve turned into different stores, like desserts,” said fellow shopkeeper Nora Miemban, referring to a Filipino tofu-pudding shop right next door.
“Places like these restaurants are doing good because the market is different for them.”
Rivera’s business, Aling Pining Video Rentals & Groceries, once one of several small grocers on the street, started to slow down about two years ago, as places like No Frills Groceries opened up.
“Before No Frills opened, my sales were more than $1,000 per day, but now it’s half: around $500 or $600,” she said.
Miemban understands Rivera’s dilemma. “Before we were making around $3,000 a day,” she said, “but now we’re lucky if we get $500.”
The income from Rivera’s restaurant has so far offset the losses from her grocery store. She’s managing to stay afloat, but now rent increases are adding a new challenge.
“In my grocery store, when I started my very first year, I was renting for $700 per month,” she said. “Now it’s up to $1,700 dollars per month. At the restaurant, I started at $2,000 last year.”
Range of choices
Six new businesses have opened on Fraser Street just blocks away from Rivera’s store in the last couple of years.
The new range of choices is good news for people like Mike Klassen, a resident and local blogger. He said the big grocery store’s arrival has changed the neighbourhood for the better.
“It’s been a real community-changing project,” he said, “It’s clear the folks that are in there are from all strata of the community, both ethnic and economic.”
“You just go inside and your head spins because there’s just so many types of people buying their groceries. Plus everyone can walk there.”
Rivera is hoping that will continue. “Things are slow for me right now,” she said, “but maybe in the future it will start to become busy again.”