Mandaluyong,  Special Feature

An SM Mall Story (As Told By 3 Malls) – Part 3: The Mall Goes Mega

As was discussed in the previous installment, SM City North EDSA was the beginning of a new chapter for SM, one which would define its journey for the next 30 years and beyond. With SM City North EDSA’s success, SM was ready to move forward as it was planning for bigger things ahead.

A Two-Pronged Approach

Emboldened by the public’s patronage of SM City North EDSA, SM became more aggressive when it came to the planning for the construction of more SM shopping malls, which would later be dubbed as SM Supermalls as it was looking to open at least 1 shopping mall every 1 or 2 years. It was also ambitious in scope as SM was not eyeing more malls in the metropolis but also in different parts of the country as well.

Such efforts were a far cry from the modest expansion plans it undertook in the 1960s and the 1970s for SM Department Store. Indeed, SM would now go all out to ensure SM’s success in SM City North EDSA would not be remain just a “one and done” thing but the beginning of the realization of Henry Sy Sr.’s vision for Philippine retail and how SM would play a key role.

In achieving this vision, SM was keen on doing two things: swiftly meet what they foresaw was a growing demand for shopping malls and showcase something new or different that will draw the crowd in. Rather than trying to address both of them at once in each mall, SM went on a more economical route and “segregated” their mall projects according to which aspect each addresses more. SM’s 2nd Supermall, SM Centerpoint (later renamed SM City Sta. Mesa), which opened in 1990 was an example of a mall that primarily addressed the shopping mall demand, especially in the Manila-Quezon City corridor. It would be SM’s 3rd Supermall that would address the “something new” aspect…and much more.

SM Megamall in the early 1990s (image via DM Consunji Inc.)

The “Megamall” Opens

On June 28, 1991, less than a year after the opening of SM Centerpoint/City Sta. Mesa, SM opened its 3rd Supermall. By itself it is already an achievement for having a new mall opened under a year’s time. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

The new mall was given the name SM Megamall. And indeed, it lived up to the “mega” name. Immediately upon opening, it already toppled SM City North EDSA to be the largest shopping mall in the country in terms of retail area. It boasts 6 levels of retail space.

The fact that SM made one big giant shopping mall out of two adjacent properties was an early example of SM transforming the urban landscape in a way that has never been done before. Nowadays, one can no longer imagine Julia Vargas Avenue without the 4 upper levels of SM Megamall above it as it approaches EDSA. It’s as if that part of the road has become intrinsically part of SM itself.

Julia Vargas Avenue approaching SM Megamall from EDSA

More Than Just Retail

While the selection of retail establishments in the mall was staggering than that of SM North EDSA, it was not the retail aspect that made SM Megamall the bigger hit than the former when it opened. In particular, two unique attractions were introduced by SM, radically transforming the landscape of the commercial space in the country.

First of these was the trade hall called the Megatrade Hall. While such venues are nothing new, Megatrade Hall was the first trade hall to be located in a commercial venue such as a shopping mall. If you look at it, it was a smart and strategic move by SM to have such a facility as it provided incentive for more foot traffic to the mall. But at the same time, trade fair organizers benefited not only with getting its target audience and loyal attendees, but also getting the attention of the casual shoippers who are curious to see what these trade fairs offer. And in the grand scheme of things, SM Megamall’s Megatrade Hall contributed to the greater appreciation and patronage of trade fairs in the country. Trade fairs like the Manila International Book Fair and ToyCon managed to grow and become anticipated annual events thanks to them being staple of the SM Megatrade Hall for many years.

Then there is the ice skating rink, the first of its kind in the country. While the idea of an ice skating rink in a tropical country like the Philippines was a weird concept, to say the least, it did not matter eventually. For many Filipinos have no idea as to what winter is like, a visit to the ice skating rink at SM Megamall gave them that experience, an enjoyable one at that. Soon enough, there were people, especially kids, who were learning ice skating and even ice hockey. Some of them even manage to make it as far as the Winter Olympics, a rare participation in itself considering the country’s climate.

As this Urban Roamer wrote back in 2009, when the facility was closed in its original venue, the ice skating rink served as the soul of SM Megamall. It became more than just a facility or a unique selling point to visit the mall. It became a gathering place in a way, where many experiences would come about. This transcended SM Megamall into becoming more than just a shopping mall but a different type of landmark entirely, one that has successfully fused commercial and community activity altogether.

A Refined Formula

If SM City North EDSA “created” the Philippine shopping culture of today, SM Megamall further molded it to what it is now. In effect, SM Megamall became the template that many shopping malls still emulate to this day.  At the very least, any person outside Metro Manila would be familiar with SM Megamall enough for them to dream of or plan a visit to that mall someday.

As far as landmarks go, SM Megamall was not just a popular landmark. It was the landmark that helped cement Ortigas Center as a premier commercial landmark that it is today. While it is sandwiched between two shopping malls, SM Megamall still gets the greater consumer traffic, not to mention the vehicular traffic along with it.

For many years, SM Megamall would serve as a standard for the Philippine shopping mall that few managed to match, if not exceed, even among SM malls themselves. At that point, it would seem SM has hit the zenith as far as shopping mall development as it was concentrating on building malls across the country continuously. But as we’ve learned previously, Henry Sy Sr. is not one who is content on resting on his laurels. He dreams big and he has eyed the wide open space of newly-reclaimed land along Manila Bay to help fulfill that bigger dream of his.

To be continued…

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