The COVID-19 pandemic, which still rages on at this time of writing, has hit the retail industry so hard, especially shopping malls which have long relied on foot traffic and the prevalent mall culture here for their growth. Most especially so if you’re a struggling mall operator like Ever Gotesco, trying to hold on to that last remaining piece of its once-profitable mall empire that is Ever Commonwealth.
To understand the importance of Ever Commonwealth, it is important first to know the story of the Ever Gotesco malls and the one man who was responsible for its rise and eventual fall.
Ever Gotesco rises
The story of Ever Gotesco began in 1972 when 24-year-old Jose Go opened the Ever Emporium along Recto Avenue in Manila. It may sound impressive but in reality, he had family support and resources that enabled him to do so in the first place. After all, his father opened a successful electrical equipment manufacturer and supplier Go Tong Electrical Supply Co. (which is still around making electrical supplies under the, not surprisingly, “Ever” brand name). The original Ever Emporium in Recto was 5 storeys high, and was said to be one of the first shopping centers that had a supermarket, department store, and movie theaters all in one roof, so to speak.
Go’s foray into the shopping mall business came a decade later, in the wake of Henry Sy’s successful mall venture with SM City North EDSA. Go was one of the first to challenge Sy in the mall business and in 1988, he raised the stakes with the inauguration of his first mall: Ever Gotesco Grand Central in Caloocan.
Ever Gotesco Grand Central is noteworthy not just for being the first mall under the Ever Gotesco brand name (which would later be adapted to Ever’s other mall ventures) but also for being one of the first commercial structures to emphasize connectivity to mass transportation with its direct connection to Line 1 and Monumento station. Suffice to say, Ever Gotesco Grand Central set the blueprint on the importance of connecting mass transportation with retail establishments, though some took such connections too far to the detriment of the commuters.
The success of Ever Gotesco Grand Central made the mall a landmark in itself alongside the Bonifacio Monument meters away and became intrinsically linked to Line 1 in the process. It also gave Ever confidence to build more massive malls. In 1994, Ever Gotesco Commonwealth was opened to the public (which we’ll talk about in-depth a bit later), followed by Ever Gotesco Ortigas the following year.
Around the same time, the original Ever Emporium in Manila was expanded with a new building constructed beside it to house more retail tenants. Finally, in 1996, the Recto site with the two buildings became a mall named the Ever Manila Plaza. No, it did not carry the Gotesco brand interestingly, probably due to its retail floor area being smaller than the typical Ever Gotesco mall by then.
The sharp fall and the long decline
As 1997 rolled in, Ever was in competitive place in the shopping mall scene. While not as big as SM, nor as posh as Ayala, Ever had a sizeable share among the lower and middle-class shoppers in the metropolis. The mall business’ success also helped fuel the operations of Go’s other ventures he founded since such as in real estate and in banking with Orient Bank, which would be the catalyst for the fall of his burgeoning empire.
That fall happened that same year in July when the Asian financial crisis hit most of the economies in the eastern Asian region, the Philippines included. The crisis exposed Go’s heavy reliance on debts to finance his aggressive business expansions, facilitated mainly by the aforementioned Orient Bank. In the wake of the crisis, the bank shut down becoming first Philippine bank that was a casualty of the crisis. It also plunged Go into heavy debts, with many of his businesses foreclosed or acquired by companies.
Despite the crisis, the Ever malls managed to carry on for years, though the effect of the crisis and Go’s misfortunes took a toll as their momentum halted and they suffered from stagnating development. On top of that, tragedy happened when in 2012, Ever Gotesco Grand Central was engulfed in a huge fire that caused the mall to cease operations. Eventually, the property was acquired by, of all people, Henry Sy’s SM group who would proceed to build a mall in its place. At this time of writing, the mall is quite near completion and has been given an admittedly fitting name of SM City Grand Central.
It would not be the only Ever Gotesco property SM acquired as it also managed to acquire the Ever Gotesco Ortigas property. As was touched upon in a previous piece here at that time, this prompted the closure of Ever Gotesco Ortigas in January 1, 2016, followed by massive interior redevelopment and eventual reopening in December that year to SM City East Ortigas.
In the case of Ever Manila Plaza, it was on a long decline as it downsized its operations and the old Ever Emporium building was sold to the University of the East, leaving the “newer” building intact but was already facing low foot traffic and retail stores closing down. The pandemic made the dire situation even worse, until June 2020 when Ever Manila Plaza closed down for good.
The surviving shopping mall
Despite the sad end that befell on the many Ever malls, one has managed to carry on throughout this long, ongoing crises. the 4-level Ever Gotesco Commonwealth mall, also known as Ever Commonwealth. As mentioned earlier, it’s been around since 1994 and, admittedly, has seen better days. That being said, how has Ever Commonwealth managed to survive this long?
One factor here is its location. Ever Commonwealth is located in the middle of two prominent commercial areas in Quezon City: Fairview and Greater Lagro in the north and North Triangle in the south. And this huge middle part is one that has not had huge commercial developments then and even now with no SM or Ayala building malls there. As such, the people of this middle area, which consists of massive communities like Batasan Hills, Matandang Balara, Holy Spirit, and Don Antonio consider this their own community mall of sorts.
Timing was also a major factor as it was built right around the time the area was beginning to be developed. As such, Ever Commonwealth was able to meet the shopping needs of the people who were already settled in the area, as well as those who have moved there in the following years.
Despite the mall showing its age, especially from years of stunted growth, there were efforts in recent years to somehow revitalize it. One notable development was the addition of alfresco dining area at the mall’s south side, done around 2017-2018.
Despite its resilience, Ever Commonwealth was not immune to the current challenges brought by the pandemic. A number of establishments have shut down their operations, as well as the mall’s expansive indoor theme park and movie theaters. Time will tell if they will reopen and if they could get back to their old capacities. Foot traffic these days is not as massive though there are still a sizable number of people in the mall, given as mentioned earlier that it is pretty much the only prominent mall at that part of the city.
Despite these challenges, the fact that it still remains the most prominent shopping mall in north-central Quezon City should ensure that its future is a bit more secure compared to its former Ever mall peers. Though given that Jose Go’s troubles are reportedly far from over, who knows what the future holds? Whatever the case may be, here’s hoping Ever Gotesco’s last mall continues to live on in one way or another, if only for the greater community it has served for over 27 years.