Quezon City,  Special Feature

An SM Mall Story (As Told By 3 Malls) – Part 2: A City Opens in the North

November 8, was a significant date for Henry Sy Sr. and SM as a whole. It was on this day that the first SM mall, christened SM City North EDSA first opened its doors to the public. For Sy, it was the day his dream of a shopping mall was finally realized. For many others, it was D-Day as to whether the critics will be proven right or will Sy laugh his way to the bank.

SM City North EDSA in the 1980s (photo via SM Investments Corp.)

Fortunately for SM, SM City North EDSA proved to be a hit from day 1. Dispelling the threats of economic downturn during that time, people from different parts of the metropolis and even beyond trooped to this new landmark. The Philippine mall culture was born.

SM City North EDSA in 2018

(Re)defining the Philippine shopping mall

While SM City North EDSA was not the first shopping mall nor the first commercial center in the country, the way it did things made it a trendsetter that other shopping malls eventually emulated. Firstly, SM was the first to introduce the “one-stop shopping” concept wherein everything a consumer might need or look for can be found in one place. And it’s not just the different clothing shops or restaurants with different dining concepts. It extended to things like banking, hardware, furniture, movies, live entertainment, just to name a few.

Also, SM introduced the concept of having an “anchor tenant” in a mall. In retail, an “anchor tenant” is the equivalent of being the “featured attraction” or “featured store” in the mall designed to draw shoppers to a mall because of the store’s popularity or reputation. But it has to be said here that the aforementioned definition applies usually if the mall and the anchor tenant are separate entities. In the case of SM City North EDSA and the succeeding malls thereafter, SM put a different spin to the concept.

The shops at the Interior Zone at the Carpark Building

For one, the anchor tenants of the mall are businesses operated by the SM group and/or its affiliates. And while some of these tenants are well-established SM businesses already like SM Department Store, 
(eventually renamed The SM Store), SM Supermarket, and SM Appliance Center, others were newly established, such as SM Cinema which was put up especially for the mall’s movie operations. Later on, there were Ace Hardware and Watsons, which are joint ventures SM has made with the US-based Ace Hardware Corp. and Hong Kong’s Hutchison Group respectively. In essence, the formula was inverted such that the SM mall served to attract shoppers to the anchor tenants, especially the ones put the opening of SM City North EDSA and after.

By itself, SM City North EDSA was already a massive building. But true to his ambitious and driven nature, early on Henry Sy Sr. was actually keen on making it bigger. In 1988, a multi-level parking building was opened to cater to the growing number of vehicles that would park around the mall. The ground floor of the building would eventually be opened in the  2000s as a shopping space mostly occupied first by tech stores and eventually by home and furniture stores. The following year, the Annex Building was opened, which added more retail space to the mall. There have been more changes to the mall especially during the 2000s but that will be covered in a future .

The Annex Building

Changing the landscape; plotting the future

While the effects were not immediately felt, the rise of SM City North EDSA caused a radical transformation of the country’s retail scene. Robinsons was among the first to challenge SM’s retail ambitions as it began building malls in the 1990s. Ayala eventually decided to redevelop Makati Commercial Center in the 1990s, turning it into Ayala Center. Araneta Center played catch up in the following decade beginning with the construction of the Gateway Mall. That’s not even counting the many malls being built by both giants and upstarts in retail, all trying to replicate SM City North EDSA’s success.

On the part of Henry Sy Sr., SM City North EDSA was just the beginning not only for the mall itself but for SM as a whole. From then on, SM transformed itself, becoming more than just a retailer but a commercial property developer as well. SM began laying out an ambitious plan: to build shopping malls across the country. One of those malls would be one that would be built in the Ortigas Center area, where the next chapter of the SM mall story would unfold.

To be continued

Acknowledgements as well to Wikipedia, Philstar, and SM Investments Corporation

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