Every Wednesday, I'll have an essay or a feature on any topic that catches my fancy!
Click here for part one.
It's tempting to say that independent bookstores are utter failures in the Philippines. They usually fall under one of two extremes: they either transition to become a retail chain or close in the span of a few years. That's not to say there's no middle ground but these are rare.
Because independent bookstores are just that, there's no set formula on how they're run. Some operate like a traditional bookstore. Others combine brand-new books will secondhand books (or even simply focusing on the latter). A rare few will have some side-business, such as a cafe.
I don't profess to be knowledgeable about the independent bookstore scene. There's probably a couple of independent bookstores that I haven't heard of or known about. Having said that, here are some independent bookstores that I do know.
A Different Bookstore (http://adifferentbookstore.com/)
Arguably one of the more successful independent bookstores, some might even classify A Different Bookstore as a retail chain. In many ways, A Different Bookstore is run like a retail store in the sense that its stocks are consistent among all the branches and everyone wears a uniform. It had humble beginnings, opening with one shop and slowly expanding into other locations.
The shops of A Different Bookstore aren't big. They're relatively small and each genre will have a vertical shelf. In some of the bigger branches, it might host events.
For an independent bookstore, it's pretty much sophisticated because if its aggressive expansion, presence of a discount/membership card, and consistent arrival of stocks (every 15th and 30th of the month). For a time, this was where I was getting all my fantasy/science fiction books that weren't available in the more popular retail chains. All's not well with A Different Bookstore though. In the past few years, aggressive expansion also led to some shops prematurely closing down (the Cubao branch and the Podium branch). Its flagship store in Serendra also attempted to set up its own cafe but has now been replaced by an in-house Starbucks branch.
Still, if you're looking for that sophisticated independent bookstore that has a certain ambiance, A Different Bookstore is a good place to visit.
If it's fiction and genre titles you're looking for, Booktopia is a good bookstore to visit. Again, they carry an eclectic selection of titles (this is where I find titles from independent publishers) and what you can't purchase from the shelves, you can place an order. Perhaps what makes Booktopia different is the fact that it also peddles in secondhand books and this is factored into their special orders (i.e. you can order a rare book as they'll scour the secondhand markets as well). In fact, a couple of their inventory are remainder copies (and a rare few are ARCs).
Booktopia has a casual atmosphere. It doesn't have a corporate ambiance like A Different Bookstore but rather akin to browsing in a modest collector's home. The place is comfortable and nonthreatening.
My only complaint is that the last I heard, they scaled back on their shipments so new books arrive once every two months.
Bound Bookshop (http://www.boundbooks.net/)
What caught my eye was the tag-line "five journalists plunge into the book business". They also capitalize on that fact with related merchandise and photo essays on their walls.
Bound Bookshop is relatively small and little space to maneuver in. They peddle in both new and used books. I've only been there once (it doesn't help that it has a relatively obscure location even if it's beside a relatively popular street) and as far as I can tell, they sell an eclectic selection of books (more on the nonfiction side of things).
Popular Bookstore (http://www.popularbkstore.com/)
The place is honestly a jumble. It has bins as well as shelves and there's seldom multiple copies of a book so sorting through the pile isn't easy.
Popular Bookstore is relatively spacious though as long as you don't mind using the stairs. The academe is probably the niche market of Popular Bookstore as a good chunk of their inventory are text books.
Owned by national artist F. Sionil Jose, Solidaridad Bookshop is one of the more enduring independent bookstores and aptly situated in Ermita, Manila.
The bookstore is spacious and features a wide selection, both local and foreign. (And if you're having difficulty finding copies of Sionil's books, there's an entire section here.) I was actually impressed with their selection of books as you'll find some non-US international books that aren't available elsewhere. It also has a unique selection of fiction titles, although it's not really a place to go to if you're looking for fantasy/science fiction.