“Nanay Coring”: The Woman Behind the Remarkable Bookstore in the Philippines

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Bookstores have always been an establishment of significance mostly to little kids, students, and just mere book lovers as they serve as a huge vault for literature and publications for most ages. One very significant bookstore that has been around for ages in the Philippines is National Book Store, which caters to customers not only with published books but also to various school and office necessities.

Before National Book Store became the huge name that it is in the Philippines today, there was a significant person behind the name that built the bookstore from scratch, over and over and pursued the whole idea with dedication and perseverance. This person is none other than Socorro “Nanay Coring” Ramos, the matriarch and the pillar behind the famous and well-known bookstore today.

Nanay Coring, Socorro Ramos, Founder of National Book Store
Photo Credits: People Asia PH

Before Setting up the Business in Stone

At an early age, Socorro “Nanay Coring” Ramos was already exposed to retail and business through her grandmother who used to be a fruit vendor at their local market back in their home province. Born in a family that was not the most fortunate financially and losing her father at the ripe age of 10 years old, Nanay Coring had already conditioned her mindset into earning for the family.

She would also assist in preparing the panocha or the candied brown sugar for her two sisters to sell in the market as well. Recalling such an experience when she was between 12 and 13 years old made her remember small details such as going home with insect bites due to assisting.

After moving to Manila and looking for better opportunities to improve their conditions, young Socorro’s summer vacations consisted of working and using the money for all her school necessities such as notebooks, pencils, and paper. Growing older, she continued finding small ways to earn money that will help put less burden on the family’s income. Young Nanay Coring also took it upon herself to get a job at American Sweets where she would be wrapping bubble gum for 50 centavos a day as the minimum wage.

As the currency conversion between US dollars and the Philippine peso back then was much higher than today’s amount, Nanay Coring’s minimum wage could already afford a kilo of pork as one kilo costs 45 centavos. Nanay Coring also shared that she was commended as a worker since she does her work really fast. Her American supervisor then would exclaim, “Look at this girl, how fast she wraps bubble gum!” and the enthusiasm is enough for her to power through her work and show off.

After high school, young Nanay Coring was not able to continue to college due to the family’s financial state. She then went and found a job as a sales clerk at Goodwill Bookstore, a bookstore owned by her older brother, Manuel Cancio, and his wife, Doña Juana Cancio. During her time as a sales clerk in this bookstore, she was able to meet her husband, Jose Ramos, whom she later married and shared her hardships and success with.

Hurdles Before Finally Establishing the Well-known Bookstore

The bookstore that Nanay Coring began working at eventually branched out in Escolta which her brother entrusted her to manage. Later on, that branch was bought by her husband, in which they eventually named National Book Store and began their business together. When asked about the origin of the name, Nanay Coring mentioned naming it after their secondhand caja, National Cash Register.

In the 1940s, during the Japanese colonization, National Book Store was forced to sell everything but books in order to keep their business going. May it be necessities such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, even soap, slippers, or writing pads, National Book Store would have it ready for purchase; just not books. The main reason for this is that during this era, books were strictly prohibited and censored by the Japanese government. Once they see books on sale, every page would be ripped off until the books were bare of any use. Nanay Coring hid the books she had and continued buying all the available books during the time that she kept in their warehouse.

In the year 1945, every building in Escolta was heavily affected by the war and the first branch that Nanay Coring and her husband were handling was burnt down during the liberation of Manila from the Japanese settlement. However, this situation did not deter the Ramos couple from pursuing their business.

After deciding to move the business to Avenida, they built a small store on the corner of Soler and Rizal Avenue and treated it as a place where they could, once again, continue their business. This time they are selling all the stock of books that Nanay Coring kept and bought under the Japanese occupation. Additionally, their business also thrived as they also sell school supplies and they only had a few competitors at the time.

Three years after they built the place, typhoon Gene came into the picture and destroyed everything that was on its way. Unfortunately, Nanay Coring’s house and their bookstore were among the casualties and ended up ruined with the blown-off roof and all the soaked merchandise inside it.

This disastrous event was not enough to bring Nanay Coring and her determination down, though. She continued working with her husband in order to bring their business back to life. They exerted more effort than what they already give, even sleeping for three hours in order to cover more hours for their goal of putting back the bookstore. Eventually, they ended up having a two-story building, complete with a mezzanine (a partly opened intermediate floor), and also ended up being the same building that the business ran through as it grew bigger throughout the years.

National Book Store as the Largest Bookstore Chain in the Philippines

Nanay Coring also ventured into producing greeting cards with designs that started from her own ideas of incorporating Philippine views and artworks. This further gave promotion and recognition not just for the business, but also for the Philippines. Later on, the company acquired the franchising of Hallmark Cards within the country.

With resilience and persistence despite the challenges that arose in their earlier years, National Book Store now has over 230 branches nationwide and is running for more than 75 years in the business. It is also branded as the nation’s largest bookstore chain within the Philippines, understandably so, and launched its own publishing arm, house brand, loyalty program, and specialty stores.

Anvil Publishing is National Book Store’s own publishing arm established in the year 1990. Five years later, it is followed by the store’s house brand, Best Buy, which is for National Book Store’s school and office supplies. Their loyalty program, Laking National, was implemented in the year 2000; this was started in order to provide a system that would let the consumers earn points that they can redeem once they make their next purchase.

National Book Store’s specialty stores, which are Art Bar, Noteworthy, and Workstation, are established in the year 2017. Two years later, they launched their fourth specialty store, Kid Ink, which caters to children

What started as a small business for a young woman eventually turned into a huge accomplishment that not only helped them finally have a better living, but also kept on providing good service to Filipinos. Nanay Coring’s story is truly remarkable and a huge inspiration that anyone can start small and eventually build their way to the top; just with sheer will and determination as the path to success is never linear.

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