By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
Palengkes and open spaces are hardly the place to look for books. Nowadays, they are found in big-name bookstores or second-hand shops inside malls. But just off the MRT Guadalupe Station in Makati is a house of used books that’s out of place yet not out of patrons.
The shop is nestled between closed stalls at a commercial building facing EDSA. Nearby stands sell packed snacks, fruit, rice, and household essentials. Unlike them, this shop has no name, but the stacks of magazines and paperbacks out front make it stand out to any passersby.
Inside, a small lady in her 40’s browses the rows of thin romance novels that sell for 10 bucks apiece. A teenage boy picks out a book in front and starts reading. Outside, a man sits on a plastic mono-block leafing through a hardbound Bible. Other people just mosey in, scan the titles, and zoom in on a few for a closer look.
At the seller’s station, a bespectacled man with ruffled salt-and-pepper hair wraps books and tapes torn covers and pages. Behind him a three-foot pile of unsorted books awaits a fix or a place in the packed shelves.
His mouth is busy as much as his hands. He’s struck a conversation with a male customer who asked about a book in the shelf of 65-peso titles above the pile. Later, the topic moves to Hukbalahaps and Philippine communists.
The seller interrupts the chat by calling out to curious drop-ins.
“That row of books is 40 pesos each. But you can get three for P100.” He doesn’t mind saying it, even if handwritten signs scream it all around the shop.
The guy he was talking to later leaves, yet not without saying he’ll be back to check if the book he’s looking for becomes available.
“How much is it?” she asks.
He answers not just with the price. “You know, he’s written other works like that. You might want to check them out. There’s one over there,” as he points to the shelf opposite them.
The small lady thumbing through romance novels returns to him with five “Precious Hearts” titles. Three are new buys, two of the books are replacements for an earlier purchase. He puts her cash into a small shoulder bag he wears.
The seller’s hands go back to taping the flap of a hardbound book to its cover. He simply introduces himself as Ed.
“I’m just fixing this,” he says in Filipino. “Not all of these books arrive here in good condition.”
Ed’s shop doesn’t always contain sought-after bestsellers. There are many Tom Clancys and John Grishams at the P40 shelf, but hardly any Stephen Kings. There are thin, smaller titles faded with age or stuck with library labels. Yet there are others like Carlos Quirino’s Rizal bio, “The Great Malayan”, still intact in plastic.
Still, all of them bear manually-placed price tags and are organized in shelves with genres written on them.
If you don’t find a book you fancy, tell Ed what you need and he’ll watch out for your request in the next batch of arrivals, so long as you come back.
“You sure have a lot of suki (regular customers),” he’s told.
“Of course, that’s where I get my living,” he answers. “The rent is high here—P20,000.”
But Ed has maintained the store (its price tags dub it “Juleric Bookshop”) for 17 years. This wasn’t plan when he graduated civil engineering.
“I first worked at the Sierra Madre. Then I almost left for Saudi Arabia. I realized that Saudi would just be as lonely as the mountains, so I shifted careers,” he says.
He admits, though, that selling used books is not as lucrative. “My fellow engineers have rags-to-riches stories, while I’m riches to rags.”
Yet he finds contentment his choice. Ed doesn’t mention family, but he knows books like blood relations. He discusses how hardcover editions are first released before paperbacks to a customer who wonders aloud about the difference. And he puts as much effort into wrapping up sold books in old magazine pages as he does repairing damaged volumes.
In a country of few libraries and countless impersonal bookstores, Ed keeps an old and dying trade alive. As the faces that enter his shop show, the appeal of printed stories is not lost–from the tambay to the commuter going home from work.
So long as books come in and patrons come back, Ed will open the Juleric Book Shop each morning and close at 10 p.m.