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Nanay Coring: ‘There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.’

By XANDRA RAMOS-PADILLA, The Philippine STAR Published Oct 09, 2022 5:00 am

As a Laking National kid, I have many stories to tell about National Book Store. And the main story began in the oft-told tale of how my grandparents Jose Ramos and Socorro “Coring” Cancio met each other in a bookstore 80 years ago, then opened their own bookstore together. 

It could have been by chance that they happened to buy a warehouse full of books and stationery. Jose would open the store early and take care of the money. Coring would meet the publishers and suppliers, fix the display of their stock, and even arrange the show window at night, long after the last full show of the nearby theater. She was the “Super Salesgirl,” as Nick Joaquin entitled the book he wrote about her.

It was sheer hard work that took them through the years, and they spent 20 years in Rizal Avenue, then called Avenida. It was when their children graduated from college and encouraged them to branch out — that was the beginning of National Book Store as a chain. They opened their second store in Recto, the third in Cubao, and the fourth at Quad Makati, now Glorietta. 

To this day, when Nanay Coring realizes how many National Book Stores there are, she worries about who is minding the store. Now we have more than 1,500 staff, all meticulously paying attention to the small details of each store, in the tradition of Nanay Coring. For Nanay, “No job is too small. Each one is important. I am a tindera, a salesgirl, and I’m proud of it.”

National Book Store founder Nanay Coring with granddaughter and NBS managing director Xandra Ramos-Padilla: “No job is too small (for her).

But despite thinking of herself merely as a tindera, Nanay Coring’s determination, perseverance, and resilience — as well as her passion for serving her customers — empowered her to rebuild and keep pushing forward. She would say, “There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.”

No job is too small. Each one is important. I am a tindera, a salesgirl, and I’m proud of it. — Nanay Coring

To be mentored by Nanay Coring is to learn from a graduate of the school of hard knocks, and she was a tough boss. Once I didn’t proofread a letter typed by an assistant which was sent by fax, and the next day, Nanay Coring wrote, “Hindi ka ba marunong mag-Ingles?” To my shock, there were many typos indeed, and this has taught me to proofread (always!) before hitting send.

In every meeting, she would tell publishers, “Here is my granddaughter. Teach her for she doesn’t know anything.” That humility and openness to learning helped her gain more knowledge about the business. This practice of lifelong learning continued with her throughout the years. She peruses the newspapers daily, cover to cover, clipping out articles of interest and sending them to us.

“Super Salesgirl” Nanay Coring with NBS staff.

She also jump-started my book collection and early love of reading books. She sent me a set of Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books. I progressed through various series, and one of the highlights of summer was when she invited us to go to Avenida and let us select books that we wanted like Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High.

She was on the constant lookout for new items to sell in the store. She brought me to my first book trade show in New York City when I was 18 — it was called the American Booksellers Association Convention and Trade Show then. She taught me to meet with our partner publishers but also to look for independent suppliers who might be publishing something interesting. She negotiated for exclusive textbooks, titles, and publishing lines in competition with more established partners at that time. Once she was invited to a luncheon event but there was only one seat left and none for my aunt and I who accompanied her, so she walked out of the function room with the suppliers chasing her and we ended up eating in the nearest McDonald’s.

Vintage cash register from original NBS store.

Several authors also credit Nanay Coring for publishing them, like Nora Daza and even chef RV Manabat, or giving them a break by carrying their first book like Josiah Go. Nanay Coring brought in paperbacks and got exclusive publishing lines for textbooks. She also personally chose designs for postcards and Hallmark Cards. She designed the first store logo, juxtaposing the cash register image with a red and white striped gift wrapper. This original logo was recently celebrated in a Uniqlo x NBS collaboration T-shirt.

Nanay Coring hosted the first author visits with bestselling inspiration authors Og Mandino and Richard North Patterson. She was there for the first-ever midnight book launch in the Philippines of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. National Book Store has invited international bestselling authors to the Philippines to allow Filipino audiences to interact with their favorite authors, up close and personal. These include Mitch Albom, Nicholas Sparks, Colleen Hoover, Kiera Cass, Lang Leav, and many more.

National Book Store has also hosted the Philippines Readers and Writers Festivals and other book events to keep the conversation going among the book community. During the lockdowns, authors were still able to connect with their readers in the Philippines via Facebook Live like Stephanie Perkins, Benjamin Saenz, and Gayle Forman.

Tuesdays with Morrie author Mitch Albom with Manila fans in 2014.

Over the years, National Book Store has faced and overcome many challenges. Nanay Coring often recounts experiencing Typhoon Jean in the ’50s, which blew off their roof causing water damage to their entire inventory. “But it’s a matter of firm determination and resolve,” recalls Nanay. “Nanlambot ako. Hindi ko malaman kung anong gagawin. I knew I needed to work hard again from zero. And I did.”

March of 2020 brought an unexpected challenge with the global pandemic and resulting lockdowns. In the initial strict lockdown, all of our branches had to close and the operation of our online stores was also hampered. The subsequent lack of face-to-face classes and reduced on-site work significantly reduced the need for school and office supplies. This was certainly a difficult time for National Book Store. But in times like those, we always looked back to the example set by Nanay Coring and the fundamental values she exemplified, and we found the strength to keep going.

Author Lang Leav at SM Megamall fan event in 2019

Kudos to the NBS staff who had to walk kilometers to work because there was no available transport — for example from Taguig to Makati to open the store — and those who heroically helped to serve orders for materials to make safety equipment like acetate, plastic covers, glue gun, and pens.

We quickly learned how to do text-to-order sales and receive GCash for payment, then deliver the orders. The stores also learned to fulfill online-to-offline orders from Metromart, PickARoo, SM Malls Online, and Ayala Zing. We also gave customers the option of ordering online, offering book preorders and school supply lists on the NBS website and online channels on Shopee and Lazada, Edamama, and, soon, Zalora. Since these channel options were developed during the pandemic, customers can now choose to browse on their own or utilize online services.

But Nanay Coring’s passion is not limited to business; it includes philanthropy and education as well. Nanay Coring says, “'Pag nakatulong ako ng tao at masaya sila, masaya rin ako.” In 2004, the National Book Store Foundation was established to help support Filipino schoolchildren across the country through Project Aral kits and Project Aklat book drive.

To date, the NBS Foundation has donated over one million books, built over 500 libraries, and helped more than 2.5 million students. If a generous customer would like to donate school supplies, the store can customize a set and pack them for you according to the needs of your recipients.

Another milestone this year is that the first batch of NBS College graduates got their degrees in BS Accountancy, BS Accounting Information System, BS Entrepreneurship, BS Computer Science, and BS Tourism Management.

The past 80 years have proven that National Book Store has a special place in the hearts of Filipino artists, bookworms, business owners, students, and professionals. We will always be here, and we will continue to serve them as their trusted partner for creativity, productivity, self-expression, and life-long learning. “Read more. Know more. Earn more,” says Nanay Coring.


Quotations from Nanay Coring were published in An Open Book: Thursdays with Nanay Coring by Cecilia Ramos-Licauco with Yvette Fernandez, published by Anvil Publishing, Inc.