I’m going to go all John Lennon on you for a second.
Imagine a world where everyone trusted each other where no one stole or took advantage of others.
Imagine a world where we could leave our doors open and our valuables unattended without worry.
Now, imagine this world where shopkeepers could leave their merchandise out on the shelves for anyone to come in and purchase, and just leave the correct change because no one was actually working in the store!
In this utopia, the stores operate on blind trust, counting on the complete honesty of their patrons, who could easily choose not to pay and walk out with their merchandise, but don’t.
While we may think that the John Lennon’s perfect vision in his song, Imagine, is so naive it’s outright impossible; there actually is such a place!
Welcome to the Honesty Coffee Shop.
I’m not joking – such a place does exist, located in the equally idyllic Batanes Island.
If there is to be a café that’s operated only by the Golden Rule, it’s fitting that it would be situated there, the furthermost northern island out of all 7,500 in the Philippines archipelago that’s so beautiful and fantastical, it looks like something out of a children’s story – not real life.
The Honesty Coffee Shop is located in the village of Ivana (most communities are villages there, as the island has a population of only 18,000, with 8,000 of them living in the main town, Basco), which is the jumping off point to visit the nearby island of Sabang.
It may be a hot tourist attraction now, with nearly all of the islands recreational visitors making a stop at the Honesty Coffee Shop, but it started with much more humble intentions.
Back in 1995, a local Ivatan woman (the indigenous islanders, most of whom lived off of fishing and the land until recently) named Elena Gabilo was looking for a project after she retired.
She decided to open a small sari-sari store (the name for a miniature sell-everything neighborhood shop, sort of like a home-based bodega), which was nothing unusual, as there are countless sari-saris on the island.
But soon after opening it, she decided to focus her attention on helping her husband, Jose Gabilo, on their small cane vinegar farm. So, she decided to keep the store open but unattended, for customers to come and go and purchase things as they wish, trusting that they would leave the appropriate money.
This may sound insane to use, but on this small island, everyone knows everyone else and trust and cooperation is the only way they can survive the harsh environment. Still, to this day, there is virtually no crime on the island.
Still, to this day, you can stop in the Honesty Coffee Shop (the name came after), from 6 am to 6 pm. There is still no proprietor manning the store, and they have no cash register, but the elder Elena Gabilo’s grandchildren, who live in a small house behind it, come and go from time to time, sweeping up and making sure it’s clean.
Inside, you’ll find plenty of Honesty Coffee Shop souvenirs, Batanes knick-nacks, local food items and sweets, and yes, coffee.
If you’re a little bit flustered by the thought of navigating a store transaction all by yourself, there are signs encouraging and directing you (like “God is my security guard!”) as well as prices on the items.
Simply choose what you want and drop your money in the wooden cash box. The box is closed so you can’t start rifling in to make change or anything, but most tourists, so enamored with the concept, reward the shop by overpaying.
But, before you leave, don’t forget to wash your coffee mug yourself in the sink behind the counter – honesty extends to cleaning up after yourself. John Lennon never sang about that!