Bookstores we love

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa - The Philippine Star

Change came to almost all Filipino bookstores in the many unimagined ways when the pandemic lockdowns started. Once almost wholly dependent on foot traffic, shops big and small stood silent, ominously sad in their aloneness, and quite perplexed at their changed circumstance.

Toward the end of 2020, it was clear that decisive action was needed for all bookstore owners, from micro to large enterprises. The first to go online were second-hand bookshops, but only after shuttering their rented stores to cut down on operational losses.

Fully Booked, perhaps the country’s second largest chain of bookstores, closed its Taft Avenue branch in late 2021. And at the beginning of 2022, it announced its decision to close three more branches.

National Bookstore (NBS), a mammoth in the industry founded in 1942 by the husband and wife team of Jose and Socorro “Nanay Coring” Ramos, was able to weather the lockdowns and managing to avoid closures of branches, although many do looked tired and worn down now.

Both Fully Booked and NBS had shifted a large part of their book sales online during the pandemic, and like many big bookstores around the world, had noted a steady income stream from online book sales, presumably because of the number of bored people who had to stay home.

The existence of reputable book review sites has tremendously helped in migrating bibliophiles to the convenience of online book buying, and even before the pandemic struck, many were already happy to sit back and wait for their ordered book to arrive.

Smaller and independent bookstores that migrated to online sales more often used Facebook as their channels. Many owners, especially those that offer second-hand books, are looking to a return to brick-and-mortar book selling since most clients are those that love to get their hands onto actual editions and peruse the contents before opening their wallets.

Merchandise shopping

NBS, like Fully Booked, has an office supplies division that also offers specialty notebooks, pens, and other items. These have also migrated to online sales, and getting the kind of curios you would want had become more convenient.

Branding has become an all-important criteria in a customer’s decision to buy, assuring of a purchase that meets the quality criteria. Consequently, it becomes more difficult for less-known brands to be featured on the online sales platforms.

Some of the pleasure from personally handling a new notebook edition or the upcoming desk diaries before purchase is definitely foregone, thus the tendency is to keep choices safe to protect expectations and your money. Still, the convenience that comes with online merchandise shopping from a bookstore cannot be ignored, especially if you abhor going into malls during weekends or after office hours.

Delivery policies can be different for your favorite bookstores. Fully Booked offers free shipping for purchases above a certain amount, although of course, the range of book and merchandise that they sell online are limited and pricier.


Early this year, NBS opened a new store on Taguig City’s booming One Bonifacio High Street (BHS), which clearly heralds a sentiment that the lockdowns are a thing of the past, and business is back to normal. NBS president Adrian Ramos succinctly declared “We’re back.”

The store has the glitziness of all its premier outlets in big business districts across the country, an effort to lure back especially its core customers to brick-and-mortar stores.

For many of the bookstores that closed during the pandemic, finding a new building space to display their wares is now a matter of urgency with many rental spaces still not taken up. In fact, for NBS, getting the BHS space had been in the works for a number of years.

Just like its decades-old history, NBS has shown an amazing ability to survive even the worst of catastrophes. Its story speaks of how its first store at the foot of Escolta Bridge in Sta. Cruz, Manila was burned down by the American bombings of Manila in 1945, only to resurface at a different location in time for the school opening after the war.

The NBS resiliency has shone through during numerous other occasions, each time providing the stepping stone to make it stronger and bigger. Today, NBS has over 230 branches nationwide, and is already readying the opening of a few more branches within the year.

The children and grandchildren of Nanay Coring today run the multi-faceted business, which includes Anvil Publishing, Powerbooks, and a modest two-storey higher education college. If Nanay Coring has taught them well, this pandemic is a test that the NBS Group can surely hurdle.

Back to basics

Many of NBS’ current brick-and-mortar bookstores have gone through a tough three years, and seeing only one cashier operating the tills during the days when elementary and high school classes had begun face-to-face learning last year somehow pricks the heart.

As the whole country returns to normal, we can look forward to seeing the throngs of mothers come late July and early August to shopping once again for those low-priced, value-for-money school supplies that have kept the business alive since its founding more than eight decades ago.

Buying books and premium merchandise online may find a loyal following among middle and upper class Filipinos, but definitely the bulk of bookstore customers will still be those parents that work hard to support the education expenses of their children.

Thankfully, there are those bookstores that will still be able to do so.

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We are actively using two social networking websites to reach out more often and even interact with and engage our readers, friends and colleagues in the various areas of interest that I tackle in my column. Please like us on www.facebook.com/ReyGamboa and follow us on www.twitter.com/ReyGamboa.

Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at [email protected]. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

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