National Book Store, quo vadis? | 80 years of being the “bookstore ng bayan” begins to show
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When National Book Store trended on Twitter a couple of days ago, it was for rather unflattering reasons. Those reasons are apparent to anyone who’s ever been to National Book Store in the last several years: there are fewer books on stock, stores are dimly lit, and retail space has dwindled for its once-massive superstores.
Twitter user Eduardo A. Barrenechea II had summed it up succinctly:
Barrenechea’s tweet inspired a flurry of replies, a few incredulous that somebody would refer to National Book Store as “Nash” (apparently, nobody did except the tweeter) but most bemoaning the pathetic “decline” that their beloved “bookstore ng bayan” has seen over the years. National Book Store tried to ride the momentary viral wave, but was quickly chastised by the chain’s rueful long-time customers.
Hard to believe that only five years ago, the Philippines’ oldest bookstore chain had celebrated its diamond jubilee with a star-studded party at the grand ballroom of Fairmont Makati. Surrounded by her husband and adult children who now manage NBS, family matriarch and company co-founder Socorro “Nanay Coring” Ramos, had looked hale and hearty at 94, and the bookstore had appeared poised to build more branches in the Philippines and overseas.
Between then and now came the slow re-apportionment of retail space between bookstores and school supplies. Reams of paper, stacks of notebooks, and heaps of filing materials have elbowed out bestsellers, romances, self-help tomes, and textbooks.
Many of its stores had began to shrink in size, too. The twin buildings of NBS superstore in Avenida, which used to be cleverly linked by a bridgeway, are no more, while the other Avenida store (yes, they had two branches on what is now Rizal Avenue) had shrunk from four stories to one, last I checked.
From its humble beginnings as a small bookshop atop a panciteria in Escolta in the 1940s, National Book Store rose to become a book selling and publishing behemoth comprising 226 branches across the archipelago in 2017. The chain owes much of its success to the hard work, resourcefulness, and indomitable spirit of its founders, Nanay Coring and her husband Jose Ramos. The entrepreneurial had parried the blows of war and stormy weather, keeping their beloved book store standing over feast-or-famine decades. But the one-two punch of e-commerce competition and a global pandemic knocked the retail giant to a slump from which it’s still trying to recover. A specialty bookstore chain, Powerbooks, which had sprung from National’s side in 1996, popped and fizzled long before the coronavirus started to wreak havoc.
National Book Store is as tightly woven into the fabric of Pinoy life as are the pan de sal and birthday spaghetti. NBS was where my mother would bring a list of textbooks to check off the ones my brothers and I were still missing because the school had ran out. Before the age of cellphones, NBS was everybody’s meetup place, where you didn’t mind if the others were fashionably late, because the books kept you preoccupied while waiting. How many times did you dash off to NBS for a pair of googly eyes and pink yarn for your child’s school project, which had been announced a week before but you learned about only this evening? Many Gen Xers will still remember the tagline, “Where the only thing less is the price,” without effort.
What does the future hold for the iconic retail brand? If current trends continue, we might be seeing fewer and fewer books in store, with school supplies ultimately becoming the only merchandise in some branches. It’s a change we’re already seeing in slow motion, but the prospect of a book-less National Book Store can leave anyone pining for the NBS of old where books were arranged into categories that ran for rows.
So while they’re still selling books, National Book Store is celebrating its 80th anniversary with a grand sale online and in store. The online sale will run from September 25 to 30 on its Shopee store, and will offer free shipping and up to 80% discount on various items.
If you’d rather buy books in person, you’ll be delighted to know National Book Store’s 80th anniversary sale will run from September 26 to October 16, 2022.
Get up to 80% OFF on participating books and supplies, ₱88 bestselling titles, and ₱80 deals at all NBS branches nationwide.
Grab extra school supplies for your kids, restock essentials for your home, office, or business, and do some early Christmas shopping for yourself and your loved ones.