THE LOST BOOKSTORES OF DOWNTOWN CEBU
THE CONCLUSION article of this three-part series delves into three stories: a family who used to operate a bookstore on P. Del Rosario St.; a bookstore that was inspired by Paris Shakespeare and Co.; and a sketch of a former patron of Music House and how he remembers the place. This series was inspired by the Jane’s Walk Cebu experience of the author and her friend Hendri Go. Jane’s Walk is an annual festival of free, citizen-led walking conversations inspired by Jane Jacobs.
Jane’s Walks encourage people to share stories about their neighborhoods, discover unseen aspects of their communities, and use walking as a way to connect with their neighbors.
Oriental Bookstore of P. Del Rosario St.
Constancio Ladia was a book agent in Manila so it was only logical for him to set up a business venture involving books when he came to Cebu shortly after the Second World War.
He named it: Oriental Bookstore and Printing Press.
With his wife Crispina, he ran the bookstore at its first location on corner P. Del Rosario and Junquera Streets, only a few steps away from the University of San Carlos.
In the 1950s, the bookstore was located on the spot where Post Bank now stands. They sold all types of books and school supplies and a wide variety of titles from medicine, law and pocketbooks.
A massive fire engulfed the bookstore which led the couple to move to a nearby area, where courier company LBC Express operates a branch.
The bookstore, which also doubled as a school supplies emporium, enjoyed brisk business as it was located in what can be referred to as Cebu’s version of a “university belt.”
Lawyer Chappy Piramide, the granddaughter of Constancio and Crispina, remembers her maternal grandparents as an inseparable pair.
“Nanay sported a coif hairstyle and she was the store’s cashier. We referred to the store as ‘tindahan’ where my cousins worked during the summer months of April and May,” she recalled.
The bookstore shared the same building as the law office of Chappy’s father, Avenescio Piramide, who became a lawyer in 1977.
In the 70s, Paul’s Bookstore was likewise located in the nearby Junquera Street.
The people I asked around could not exactly remember who owned Paul’s Bookstore.
One source said she could not even remember when the bookstore opened and when it left.
It seems like bookstores in the area around P. Del Rosario and Junquera Streets come and go… all the time.
Oriental Bookstore operated for as long as Chappy can remember.
Alemar’s Bookstore was their neighbor.
Chappy remembers that side of Cebu as a vibrant destination for people who need books and educational materials.
Chappy’s mother Carmelita, the youngest of Constancio and Crispina’s five children, co-managed the store with passion for books.
It was no surprise that Chappy grew up to be a lover of books, a trait she carried on until her adult years, a strong influence in her move to spearhead Book Swap Cebu.
In 1996, the family uttered their goodbyes to the bookstore as it could not anymore compete with the dwindling interest as bigger players opened in the malls, a one-stop shop where people can get all their needs.
The convenience, and comfortability (as they were air-conditioned establishments) were their unique selling points.
Over the years, P. Del Rosario and Junquera Streets became home to Goodwill Bookstore and Old San Francisco Bookstore.
I thought Goodwill will survive the challenging times but it too took a bow from the reading community and in its place now stands a ready-to-wear store.
Deeper in downtown Cebu, Gaisano Super Bookstore, Cebu Music House and later its resurrected version Cebu Thrift House, also closed shops. Bookmark on Osmena Boulevard has become history.
In 2013, La Belle Aurore Bookshop, which had a main branch on Hernan Cortes Street in Mandaue City, took its last breath and bid Junquera Street adieu.
To this day, P. Del Rosario Street is still home to Central Books and Rex Bookstore.
My five-year-old son Nicholas, calls bookstores a “paradise of stories”
because there is where I take him and his siblings to buy books that I read to them since they were three months old.
When La Belle Aurore closed its doors in 2013, I cried buckets of tears. I hosted an event called “A Beautiful Sunset” in its Mandaue City branch.
It was a painful farewell but one that was remembered by my heart with memories of songs, poetry and laughter with kindred spirits.
* * *
The story of La Belle Aurore
Joseff Lee, the owner
“It started with an online survey atistorya.net.
The thread may still be there. Looking for Literary Junkies was the title of the thread. I wanted to start a bookselling business to sustain my book buying sprees.
So I thought if I sell books at a profit, I could buy more. So I opened the Hernan Cortes branch with just 10 sq.m. of space with books piled from floor to ceiling, wall to wall bookshelves. Halogen lights showcased the books with such flair.
It was my dream bookshop.
The existing bookstores then were lit with fluorescent lights paired with the cold air-conditioned air that it
always felt like a visit to the morgue.
“Inspired so much by Shakespeare and Co. in Paris, I even sent a photo of the little shop in H. Cortes to George Whitman. He was in his 90s then. He died two years after we opened.
It was such a joy to have received a reply from Sylvia, his daughter.
We talked about the possibility of shipping books from Paris to Cebu, it was a surreal experience. Unfortunately, I did not have much funds then and did not have enough contacts to complete the transaction. It was only a matter of logistics.
“Looking back, I wish I could’ve just given it a little more push to have the plan realized.
But I was young, inexperienced. It remains a dream. If any of you could beat me to it, it would be such a wonderful contribution to this city silently dear to me.
“As for the many successes of the shop, it was always the people who breathed life and magic to the shop. I was a mere spectator. The failures
belonged to me and my youth.
“Ever since the shop closed, I have received many requests to bring it back and I do intend to.
“Perhaps when the hair is grayer, I always say.”
Louella Alix, the patron
“In the tradition of legendary bookstores like Shakespeare and Co. La Belle Aurore in the original Hernan Cortes location in Mandaue City defied ordinary descriptions. Let me tell you about my first visit to La Belle Aurore.
“I first heard about it from The Page Turner, an online bookstore which was run and owned by a phenomenal writer and musician who would quote Baudelaire and post French poems just because.
“She described a trip to Cebu where she went inside a seemingly ordinary bookstore. Lo and behold! Before her were walls of shelves filled with books and when she turned to her right was an upright piano right in the middle of another book-filled room. She could not help herself from playing the piano.
“I looked for the address of this bookstore and scoured Mandaue streets. That was the year I started to write the book on Mandaue City. I could not contain myself when I finally found the place.
There was a hush when I parted the door and upon encountering the endless shelves of books I stood in awe. Who could create a store as magical as this?
On a little wall separating the two rooms, letters from patrons were tacked as well as photos of Audrey Hepburn. Is the owner a fan?
There were comfortable chairs for reading. Then I saw the piano. I remembered The Page Turner’s post in Multiply.
I thought I could hear her music. I certainly connected to something or somebody there.
“I don’t remember how I got to meet Joseff Lee, the owner.
I only remember meeting this amiable gentle soul who named his bookshop after the cafe where Ilsa and Rick last met in Paris before they were separated. Casablanca, remember? Call it ambiance, aura, mood, that place had all that.
“Then Joseff boldly opened a branch in Junquera near the University of San Carlos.
He invited us for the opening and more magic was woven on that night of poetry and song and music. That was the night I met all my daughters from other mothers!
We are bonded by a shared love for the printed word.
These girls who love Joseff like their brother were enthralled by the lovely space he created for books and book lovers.
* * *
Cebu Music House in Jessie’s memory
Jessie Cubijano, a social development worker, remembers Cebu Music House as the place he frequently visited as a high school student at the University of the Philippines.
Asked how he remembers one of his favorite places during his teenage years, Jessie shared this sketch:
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