The Origins of Divisoria

The story on how Divisoria came to be
IMAGE Wikimedia Commons - Timothy Albano

At Divisoria, bargain hunters and entrepreneurs alike can find raw materials or finished goods at rock-bottom prices. 

Hundreds of stores and stalls sell every imaginable product—from fresh farm produce and processed foods to seasonings, flavors, and kitchen and baking equipment; from the latest in textiles and fashion apparel to the whole gamut of personal care products; from school and office supplies to cell phones and other gadgets; from toys and trinkets to hardware, furniture, and home and office décor; and from dyes and chemicals to sewing needs and fishing equipment.  

Although it has no defined boundaries, Divisoria is about half-a-square-kilometer in size, bisected by Claro M. Recto Ave. It used to be notorious for its filthy streets and second-rate merchandise sold by fly-by-night vendors, but the development of the shopping malls within its vicinity has made it an option even for the upscale shopper.

Divisoria traces its roots as a commercial hub back to the Spanish period, when non-Christian Chinese were forbidden to live or trade inside nearby Intramuros, the Spanish seat of power. These Chinese merchants eventually set up shop in Binondo, and the area blossomed as a shoppers’ mecca owing to its proximity to the Pasig River, the North and South Harbor, and the Tutuban Central Station, the nexus of the national train railway system—making it a major drop-off center for goods from all over the country and abroad.

Tutuban Central is now Tutuban Centermall, built in 1993 and one of the catalysts of Divisoria’s redevelopment. Other air-conditioned shopping buildings—virtual oases from the oftentimes-suffocating environment in the district’s markets and side streets—soon followed suit, like the New Divisoria Mall, KP Tower, 168 Mall, and Meisic Mall. Just across 168 Mall, local real estate giant Megaworld is building CityPlace, a twin-tower, mixed-use development that promises to bring Hong Kong-style shopping convenience.

But the heartbeat of Divisoria can best be felt on foot, along its side streets and in front of the seemingly endless row of vendors braving the sun and rain to sell their wares to all comers. The area boxed in by the intersections of Recto Ave. and Juan Luna, Santo Cristo and Comercio streets is considered the very heart of the district; from there, commerce radiates in all directions. Tabora Street, for instance, is the go-to place for kitchenware, baskets, clothing accessories, and costumes for theme parties. Ylaya Street has stores that sell ribbons, buttons, trimmings, and other sewing and textile needs. Walk a little further into Binondo, and you can find jewelry and fine china shops along Ongpin Street.

Whatever business an entrepreneur is engaged in—buy-and-sell, manufacturing, services, and the like—Divisoria could hold the key to its success. It’s an accessible trading center where shop owners are willing to haggle down to the last peso, where it’s indeed cheaper to buy by the dozen, and where entrepreneurs themselves can learn the very basics of running an enterprise: creating a customer and making the sale.

This article was first published in the August 2009 issue of Entrepreneur Philippines. It appeared on Minor edits have been made by the editors.


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