PHUKET: Shelves where fresh fruit and vegetables usually sit for sale in SuperCheap convenience store outlets all over Phuket were looking bare today.
The burning of the iconic central SuperCheap headquarters hub in Phuket City overnight leaves the island's poor and underprivileged wondering where to shop.
Everybody used to scratch their heads at how the local brand did it, but SuperCheap pared its margins to the minimum and actually thrived on competition when the big brands tackled its Phuket toehold.
The secret lay in SuperCheap growing much of their own food and slashing other costs to the minimum. As a result, the huge tin sheds that made up the Phuket City headquarters remained quirky and unadorned.
Down the aisles there you could count on finding the cheapest food and any item that you couldn't find everywhere else on Phuket was bound to be found somewhere in the tin maze.
Observers could see the potential for disaster in the ramshackle anarchy but if lower prices for people resulted, not many on Phuket ever complained too loudly.
While it's good news for the owner that the building and its contents were covered for 620 million baht in insurance, the economy of Phuket is bound to suffer.
Attracting five-star tourists from all over the globe is just one result of the remarkable Phuket economy, which sustains thousands of low-paid legal and illegal Thai and Burmese workers.
They keep the tourism treadmill turning.
Deprive them of their jobs, as appears to be the case with 3000 who will be immediately affected by the razing of the amazing SuperCheap headquarters, and entire family networks will suffer.
Stop the regular supply of truly supercheap food to the network of about 25 SuperCheap 24-hour stores around Phuket, and every low-paid worker and every low-paid workers' family on the island will suffer.
While expats welcomed the arrival of Tesco followed by other big retail outlets on the island, it has been the continuity provided by the amazing SuperCheap local brand that has prevented the Phuket cost of living - already the highest in Thailand - from soaring through the roof.
Now there is no roof at SuperCheap, only the smoking sky.
And the consequences?
Everybody on Phuket will be affected, from the most extreme poor through to the five-star rich, even those who in normal circumstances would never dream of dropping by at SuperCheap.
The blaze that brought quirky Phuket shopping under tin at SuperCheap to a sudden end means costs will inevitably rise, just like the smoke.
PEOPLE who wish to help victims of the SuperCheap blaze are advised to call either of the following numbers:
076 218444 076 212047