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Legend of NBS

By: Jullie Y. Daza

NATIONAL Bookstore, 75 years old and 19 years younger than its founder, is more than what its name says it is. The chain of NBS shops up and down the archipelago makes it a nationwide brand, the only really national bookstore chain hereabouts. If the other bookstores don’t have the reach, it’s because they’ve never had a Socorro “Nanay Coring” Ramos at the helm.

Mrs. Ramos heads the three-generation company that has been a part of the lives of four generations of Filipino readers. As she once told me, “the secret to staying young is staying busy.” That she has been, staying young and busy at 94, though she has had to scale back some of the must-do’s and to-do’s of the day, leaving the bulk of the work to granddaughter Xandra.

Mrs. Ramos founded NBS when she was 19. I was 21 when I discovered I had struck gold wandering between the rows of books at the newly redone NBS a few pedestrian minutes from the newsrooms of the pre-Martial Law Manila Times. At the time, her son Ben had just completed the “look” he had envisioned for the store (the branches would grow later) – but here it was airconditioned and everything was bright lights and bright interiors, no musty corridors, with only the most inviting displays to tempt bookworms. Being lost inside the store minutes after pay day was one of the best things about pay day.

As NBS sold more books, Mrs. Ramos earned the clout – and charm – to demand from American and British publishing houses a discount in their prices for the Philippine market. Eventually, National diversified, but not too far off, into publishing and distributing under a different entity, Anvil, and that’s how National became a publisher, marketer and distributor for Filipino authors.

As anyone who’s “Laking National” knows, today’s NBS is more than national, it’s generational, it’s multicultural, and it’s educational in more ways than teachers, learners, and Mrs. Ramos can say. I for one cannot imagine what life would’ve been and would be without NBS, in the midst of an invasion by nonbook “books.”