Quezon City

reminiscing Cubao: when department stores were kings

As was mentioned in a previous entry, Cubao at its height was a premier commercial destination. For casual shoppers and enthusiasts, Cubao was one of the top destinations in mind if you’re looking for variety and great bargains to boot.

To give you a good idea of how bustling was Cubao’s shopping activity during its heyday, I would refer you to this customized Google Earth map I made. Here you can see that the department stores (who at the time were the upper echelons of the shopping hierarchy) were located right across or next to each other. You can imagine the chaos if there was a simultaneous sale that will be held by 2 or more stores there.

We’ve already talked about C.O.D.; let’s talk about the other department stores which not only served as competition but contributed to the overall atmosphere of Cubao that is now a stuff of memories. Many of them I have known and visited so I’ll try to provide a better picture based on what I remember about them.

Much of the shopping activity in Cubao at the time was concentrated along the stretch of Gen. Malvar Ave., named after a general of the Philippine Revolution Miguel Malvar. The fact that you can find a department store on each end of this street was a testament to how frentic shopping activity is in this particular stretch of roadway. On its western end right across it you’d find Uniwide Cubao department store which catered to the lower income bracket with its low-priced goods. The story of its parent Uniwide Sales is a tragedy in itself as it was a rising brand by the 1990’s with agressive plans for expansion in Cubao among other places had the Asian financial crisis of 1997 not only put a hold to those plans but eventually caused Uniwide’s bankruptcy which led to Uniwide Cubao’s closure by the end of the decade. For a long time much of it became a vacant space of land until another rising retailing brand stepped in. Puregold which was interestingly located before on the other end of Gen. Malvar at the old C.O.D. building would move to its new home in August 2010. A smaller part of the old Uniwide lot became a branch of budget hotel chain Eurotel.

Moving along Gen. Malvar before it intersects with Gen. Aguinaldo Ave. were a variety of clothing and footwear shops that were taken over now by the bigger Gateway Mall. Right at the corner of the aforementioned intersection was a building that exclusively housed another department store called Plaza Fair which, like Uniwide, was once part of a rising retail chain. In fact, Plaza Fair’s sibling brand Fairmart had a presence in Cubao as well at Farmers Plaza. Financial difficulties, not to  mention a shift in shopping tastes in the metropolis forced Plaza Fair’s parent to downsize its presence. Plaza Fair’s building was demolished to give way to a still-to-be-built Gateway Tower (God knows when it’s going to be built) as its retail operations moved to Farmers Plaza, which also ended the Fairmart brand.

Continuing along Gen. Malvar St. are a line yet again of clothing and shoe retailers. One of the prominent landmarks in this part of the street was the old Cubao branch of the iconic Chinese noodle restaurant Ma Mon Luk. As with the fate of many retailers in the area by the 1990’s, these stores faced business difficulties brought about by among others, competition from the bigger, have-it-all shopping malls, forcing them to close down one by one. Surprisingly, these stores were eventually reinvented to become retailers for second-hand goods, the so called “ukay-ukay” or “wagwagan shops.” But their stint there did not last long as the buildings they occupied were torn down to give way to Araneta Center’s redevelopment plan, part of which was the building of a 3-towered, high-rise condominium  called the Manhattan Parkway Residences, a part of a much bigger residential complex planned for Cubao called the Manhattan Garden City.

Right next to what will be the Manhattan Parkway was another old department store called Rempson, which closed down by the 1990’s, now the site of a branch of a business school chain.

At the eastern end of Gen. Malvar is Gen. Romulo Ave., possibly named after diplomat and soldier Carlos P. Romulo. Along this road’s stretch right next door to C.O.D. is a building that was used at different points in time by 2 department stores. It was first used as a branch for the Escolta-based shoe store Syvel’s until sometime in the late 1980’s I believe. Then in the 1990’s it became a Gaisano department store, the first attempt of the Cebu-based retail magnate to establish a presence here. But it too was short-lived and it closed down for good, which still is the case to this day.

Another old landmark located along this stretch was the old Cubao branch of Rustan’s department store, the only department store in Cubao that catered to the upper income bracket shoppers, though the building doesn’t seem that it is so even during that time. Rustan’s would relocated to Gateway Mall when that mall opened in 2004, and its old building was apportioned for use as a restaurant’s warehouse, appliance store branch, and a call center, not to mention the other tenants in the building, some of them having been around in the venue for a long time.

coming up: Cubao’s old movie theaters


© The Urban Roamer

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