Honesty is the Best Policy // Island Traveler Magazine

Fall 2013 // (2 of 2) article for Island Traveler* //

*Island Traveler is a magazine distributed to a largely Chinese audience on flights from Mainland China to Saipan. Article text below images //



Honesty Coffee Shop: Honesty is the best policy

Ivana, Batan Island, Philippines



In the little Philippine municipality of Ivana, on Batan Island, stands a single-room, thatched-roof house, in what looks to be a typical sari-sari store or traditional small shop selling basic goods – coffee, candies, biscuits, and various other snacks. The front door swings open to reveal a normal mom-and-pop shop. But it’s not quite normal, for over the past 18 years Honesty has been in business, there has been no one behind the register.

In 1995 Elena Gabilo, a newly retired schoolteacher, spent her new free mornings observing the fishermen just outside her house. As an act of kindness, she left out a thermos of water and some coffee and sugar for her neighbors. For a month, she supplied these fishermen with a small amount of water and coffee. One day a few coins were left behind – and who knows whether this payment was intentional or simply a forgetful fisherman who dropped his change. Regardless, it encouraged Gabilo to add some biscuits and candies as provisions. Her generosity was usually repaid with a few bills, and eventually this snack stash grew to include some rice and a kettle, tins of sardines, and various other treats.

In 1998, the press caught wind of this odd ‘store’ on the small island, a store unlike any other since it leaves its merchandise out for customers to pay-at-will. A government radio station suggested Gabilo name her operation the Honesty Coffee Shop, and the name stuck.

Today, a hand-painted sign advertises Honesty Coffee Shop to visitors from all over the world. The store attracts tourists who are mostly just curious to see if such a thing really exists. The shop, long since moved indoors, is set up with selection of gifts and food, and a long communal table sits in the middle, allowing visitors to help themselves to coffee or cola and snack on biscuits, fried plantains, or other similar light fare. Each item in the store has a corresponding price tag, and instructions are taped to the wall to guide each visitor to record items into a log book and drop payment into a wooden box at the counter.

Though Gabilo doesn’t keep fastidious records enough to know how much and how often her customers pay, she estimates that “98% of the customers pay the right amount”. If your conscience doesn’t force you to pay up, maybe the sign taped on the wall will, which reads, “This store is too small for dishonest people”.

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