Where Did Filipinos Go Before There Were Malls in Metro Manila?
Malls in the Philippines were officially introduced in the '60s but before them, there were standalone department stores and shopping complexes that thrived. The structure of these establishments and even the floor layouts were different from the malls we know today, which were influenced by places like Harrison Plaza and Ali Mall, but they provided the same comfort—you could shop for a variety of items under just one roof. Some of them were even airconditioned.
Here are some notable ones:
1| Crystal Arcade
The main purpose of the Crystal Arcade along Escolta was to house the Stock Exchange but the building also contained shops that sold sweets and imported goods. Inaugurated in 1932, it was designed by Andres Luna de San Pedro, the same man responsible for the First United Building and Manila Hotel.
Its claim to fame was that it was the first building to be air-conditioned. Considering it was a multi-purpose complex with shops, it was similar to the malls we know today. It was badly damaged during the Battle of Manila, and though it was rebuilt, it never fully recovered.
2| H.E. Heacock's Department Store
Another Escolta landmark was the Heacock Department Store. It was the first store that used window marketing or the practice of displaying products in a glass window to attract customers. Back then, store owners didn’t advertise their goods this way for fear that robbers would be tempted to steal their items.
The store was named after American jeweler H.E. Heacock who first sold men’s watches, cufflinks, and other silverware along the Sta. Cruz bridge, then at Quiapo during the early 1900s. The store finally moved to its final location, Escolta, in 1910.
Though Crystal Arcade was the first building that had airconditioning, only several shops had it. Heacock’s was the first to have the entire building airconditioned. It also had “magic doors” that opened using photoelectric cells.
In the '20s, due to the store’s success, branches soon opened in Iloilo, Cebu, Davao, and Baguio. The branch in Escolta remained popular until the ‘50s.
3| Aguinaldo Department Store
Did you know that a department store in Manila had the statue of both Andres Bonifacio and Lady Liberty guarding its entrance? Ironically, this store was named Aguinaldo Department Store.
Originally known as L.R. Aguinaldo’s Emporium, it was established by retail executive Leopoldo R. Aguinaldo in the '30s. The store was also originally located along Juan Luna Street before moving to Echague.
The multi-story Aguinaldo Department Store was known for its art deco façade and imported goods. Of course, it also sold Philippine products. One of its most famous sections was the furniture section because it used the talents of young designers like Bonnie Ramos, Myra Cruz, and Edgar Ramirez.
Because of the store’s success, it also had branches in Iloilo, Dagupan, and Baguio.
Unfortunately, the store closed shop in the '60s after facing fierce competition from the more modern malls such as Ali Mall and Harrison Plaza.
4| La Puerta del Sol
Another upscale department store in Manila was La Puerta del Sol or Gate of the Sun. It was also located along Escolta at the far-end corner.
Before the internet and the convenience of online shopping, Filipinos who wanted to shop without the hassle of visiting the actual store could do it via mail order. And La Puerta del Sol was one of the places that could do it in the 1910s. The mail orders were even personally managed by the store proprietor that time.
It was known as “the big store that sold everything”—a motto that could give today’s SM a run for its money. Back then, it sold kitchenware, tableware, dry goods, perfumes, postcards, toiletries, toys, musical instruments, bags, iron safes, and even guns!
5| La Estrella del Norte
The Levy brothers from France first sought out their fortune in the U.S. but things did not work out for them. Instead, they tried their luck in the Philippines.
They first arrived in the country in 1873. They brought with them several crates filled with statues, gold chains, eyeglass frames, religious trinkets, and other unsold goods from their store in the US. They opened their store in Iloilo and named it La Estrella del Norte, after the North Star.
They soon became known for their jewelry and watch making skills. It wasn’t long before they opened a branch in busy Manila. A big hanging clock marked its doorway. The store was even mentioned in the 1903 book, The Great White Tribe in Filipiniana by Paul Gilbert. In the book, the store was mentioned as a popular diamond and jewelry store.
In the late 1880s to the early 1900s, the shop diversified its business. It started to sell bicycles, phonographs, moving pictures, and even cars. In fact, it sold the first automobile in the country. It was bought by a rich doctor and this car is now displayed at The Mind Museum.
True to its French origins, the store was continued to be supplied with expensive French jewelry, silverware, and perfume until the war.
Unfortunately, it was one of the casualties of the Battle of Manila. It was reconstructed but it never fully recovered. Like other standalone department stores, it lost to modern malls in the '60s while its high-profile clientele also moved to the southern part of the metro.
6| Berg’s Department Store
Owned by a German family of the same name, Berg’s was another landmark in Escolta. In terms of variety, its former patrons can testify that it could compete with today’s malls.
The store was named after Ernest Berg, a German who moved to the Philippines to escape WWI. After starting a successful cars and parts business, he also built a department store which he named after his family. This was the ‘30s when Escolta was booming.
The department store was known for selling imported toys and ready-made ladies wear. The latter was a novel offering since most clothes were made to order that time, even in the U.S.
Ernest sold Berg’s to Chinese entrepreneur Sy Lian Teng in the ‘50s. His family currently owns the First United Building where the store was formerly located. Berg’s officially closed shop in 1982 but now its space is currently being rented to artists and cultural entrepreneurs in an effort to revive Manila’s lost shopping district.