The new Unimart–brighter, but narrower, less eclectic | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

They’re calling it Newnimart, Unimart 2.0, even the Second Coming of Unimart.

The rambling expanse of this favorite supermarket in Greenhills has shut its doors for the last time, but a new purpose-built structure has sprung up beside it.

Favorite memories

My fondest memory of Unimart is graduating from sitting in the shopping trolley’s child carry compartment to being able to push the cart down the aisles myself. (They’re probably the same carts that were still in use as of last month.)

There used to be books. I found my early Enid Blytons there. After the cashier had rung up your bill on the mechanical cash register and paid in cash (since credit cards needed to be “swiped” using the mechanical flatbed imprint machine at a separate lane), I would sip an Orange Julius and try to persuade my mom to make a side trip to Virra Mall, which had escalators encased in plexiglass.

While shopping, the speaker system would periodically call out for lost children, telephone calls, or cleanup for the inevitable child crashing into a shelf of jam bottles. (No, not me.)

Even in the last days of disco for the old Unimart, despite being hot, unventilated and filled with the vague smell of cockroach eggs, it was still always useful. Anything you could find at any other supermarket would be cheaper at Unimart.

And then there would be all the things you couldn’t find anywhere else: paper money to be burned for the dead, joss sticks, old-fashioned safety razors, the same brand of undershirts I’ve been wearing for the last 30 years.

You’d find juices, pickles, tinned goods, baking goods and things you never knew existed. And, best of all, they’d bag them in the same old sturdy plastic bags that said, “Have a nice day!”

For convenience’s sake, I do most of my shopping at Marketplace by Rustan’s in Rockwell, and I have to say that I like it for a lot of things. Everything’s expensive, of course, but it’s the price of living in Makati: Everything’s more expensive.

It has a very nice cheese selection, the carts are clean, the meat section doesn’t smell, and it always seems to have foie gras on discount in the freezer.

It has the basics, but not patis. It has Thai fish sauce, but no Rufina patis—I don’t understand this. Then the staff tries to bag everything into what feel like 70-gsm brown paper bags, which rip, so they have to double-bag it—but inevitably the cold stuff leaks and the bags will go pulpy and burst on you while you’re walking at the parking lot. (I understand this isn’t a Rustan’s problem so much as a Makati ordinance problem—but it’s reason enough for me to do my grocery in Taguig or San Juan instead.)

In a daze

The new Unimart is the old Unimart in new wineskins. The aisles are narrower, and everyone’s walking about in a daze, partly because everything’s so shiny, and also since the people can’t find anything so they’re circling around randomly. It’s still full of the pushy Greenhills titas who would never be caught doing anything so low as to push their own shopping cart—their bodyguards do it for them.

The old cafeteria has been replaced by Mary Grace.

For now, the prices seem to have remained stable. But the selection seems to be a little less eclectic. I’m not sure if this is because I don’t know where anything is and it’s actually somewhere unexpected, or if Unimart’s buyer is going more mainstream.

It also has the most confusing entrance and exit of any building that I’ve ever visited. It’s built around the car—specifically, people who have a car with a driver.

I ate at Wildflour, just across the street, which is now ground zero for the bejeweled Xavierian mothers, and tried to walk across to Unimart. You have to daintily mince down a narrow sidewalk created by walling off part of the road with a bit of blue twine, and then cross the pedestrian lane at a blind corner where taxis accelerate to go uphill. Then you have to try and get in: The design brief seems to make the place impregnable to visitors on foot.

New layout

I don’t like it. I don’t like the new building that penalizes you for being foolish enough not to drive a car. I don’t like the new layout. I don’t like it that the strange, outlandish items that made it so fun to shop at Unimart have been replaced by mainstream items I can also get in Rustan’s or SM or Puregold.

I don’t like the rude old grandmothers who cut in line and then shout at their drivers. I don’t like that you have to go into a maze to get to the rest of Greenhills Shopping Center, which I understand is about to undergo this same sort of “improvement.”

I don’t like change, I guess—I’m one of those old people who bump into and fall over things if the furniture is rearranged.

That said, other supermarkets could learn a thing or two from Unimart. I would love to avoid supermarkets for the most part and buy staples from the wet market, and then interesting things from EchoStore, Ritual, Gourmet Corner, or at the Salcedo and Legaspi markets. But I just don’t have the time, and, I suspect, neither do most people.

Independent supermarkets can vary the homogeneity of their stock by allowing the independent, small-time producers to be able to stock their goods for a lower fee or for free, and let them showcase those goods. We’ll come for them, and then stock up on toilet paper and shampoo.

If you have a varied, interesting inventory, and keep prices low for the basics, customers will come back. You can go on for over 30 years without changing your air-conditioning system. This is the only way to fight the tyranny of homogeneity that would have us shopping for the same products and eating the same things sold by the same few food manufacturers. —CONTRIBUTED

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