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Socorro Ramos - A Century Of Stories From WW2 To National Bookstore

For over 80 years, the iconic National Book Store in the Philippines has withstood the test of time like its founder, the steadfast centenarian Socorro Ramos.

Adaline Fritz
Jan 15, 2024102 Shares8537 Views
There’s this bookstore in the Philippines that’s been around for over 80 years already, with its founder, Socorro Ramos, also still around.
In fact, this resolute businesswoman is nearly two decades older than the retail company she co-founded with her late husband.
In 2023, she turned 100; her company, the National Book Store, Inc., with branches across the Philippine archipelago, 81.
What’s your success story?
Imagine running a business:
  • when man has not yet landed on the moon;
  • during the dreaded Atomic Age - an era that started in 1945 after the first atomic bomb exploded;
  • when Bill Gates and Steve Jobs weren’t born yet; and
  • at the dawn of the wonderful World Wide Web (and way past the period when the Internet bubble burst) . . .
. . . and that has witnessed the rise of social mediaand survived a global pandemic?
This old lady’s company is still alive at the time of another explosion, this time, of artificial intelligence.
That’s the kind of life Socorro Ramos has been living.
Hey, Zoomers! Ain’t that cool, huh?

Who Is Socorro Ramos?

Maria Socorro Cancio-Ramos was born September 23, 1923 in the municipality of Santa Cruz, the capital of Laguna Province.
Laguna, a close neighbor of Manila, also happens to be the birthplace of the national hero of the Philippines, Jose Rizal (1861-1896).
She’s one of the six children of Jose and Emilia Cancio.
Her mother became a widow when she and her siblings were still young (Socorro Ramos was 7 that time, per a 2001 Philippine Star article but per Scribd, she’s 10 when their father died).
According to a 2020 article in his eponymous blog, web developer Joseph Buarao wrote that in a public market in Laguna, her grandparents sold various items such as bakya(wooden clogs), a common Philippine footwear during those times.
Socorro Ramos would help them whenever she could.
Unfortunately, her grandparents lost a lot of moneyfrom the collective debts incurred by numerous buyers.
This incident forced them to abandon their stall there and start anew somewhere else.
So, sometime in the 1930’s, Socorro Ramos, together with her family and grandparents, relocated to Manila.
As a U.S. colony (1898-1946), there were several American businesses operating in the Philippine capital. One summer vacation, she found work in one of them: American Sweets, Inc.
It’s a bubblegum manufacturer, where Socorro Ramos got paid 50 Philippine centavos per day for wrapping gums. Perhaps not bad for a kid, considering the exchange rate that time was $1 = 2 Philippine pesos.
She recalled getting complimented by the American manager for being a fast worker.
She also took other jobs during summer vacation to save moneyfor tuition fee and school supplies and to help augment the family’s income.
According to the alumni website of Arellano High School, Socorro Ramos worked in a cigarette factory.
Her task? To remove tobacco fillings that can still be utilized from old cigarettes and use them to make new ones. Compensation: 5 centavos per pack.
What did she do?
Per a 2011 interview with Philippine Star, that time, the enterprising future owner of National Book Storecontracted some of her playmates to do the job on her behalf.
She paid them 5 cents for two packs - and made a profit of 2.5 cents per pack!
In the City of Manila, Socorro Ramos and her extended family found residence in a place also named Sta. Cruz. According to the Inquirer, they lived near Calle (Spanish for “street”) Misericordia (now Tomas Mapua Street).
In that street lived the wealthy Ramos family.
Her sibling, Manuel, married Juana from that family.
In 1938, according to a 2013 article published in Collectors’ Connection, a blog by Lawrence Chan, Manuel Cancio and Juana Ramos-Cancio founded Goodwill Bookstore.
That same year, too, per Philippine Star, a 15-year-old Socorro Ramos graduated salutatorian from Cayetano Arellano High School (formerly Manila North High School).
Lack of money prevented her from going to college, where she planned to pursue medicine. So, after high school graduation, she looked for a job instead.
At 18, she became a sales clerk at Goodwill Bookstore in Calle Azcarraga (presently Recto Avenue) in Manila, according to Entrepreneur Philippines.

Love Found In A Bookstore

In 1940, when Goodwill Bookstore - it celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2013, by the way - opened a branch in Escolta (still in Manila), Socorro Ramos was transferred there.
Jose “Tsip” Ramos, the sibling of her sister-in-law Juana, also worked in the Escolta branch. As their paths crossed, they fell for each other.
In 1942, sometime after Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, they eloped (she’s 19), according to her 2011 Philippines Star interview.
They had a civil wedding at Manila City Hall presided by a certain Judge Almeda-Lopez.
She’s most likely referring to Judge Natividad Almeda-Lopez (1892-1977), the first female lawyer and judge in the Philippines per Kirstin Olsen’s Chronology of Women’s History (1994).
Socorro Ramos and her “Ling” (short for “darling,” maybe?) - her term of endearment to him, based on Yvette Fernandez’s The Story of National Book Store’s Socorro Ramos- have three children.
She first gave birth to identical twins, whom they named Alfredo and Benjamin. After seven years, she gave birth to Cecilia (nicknamed “Bak”) per a 2001 Philippine Star article.
About her children:
  • Alfredo married Presentacion Sunico (now vice president of National Bookstore).
  • Benjamin married Virginia “Virgie” Sian.
  • Cecilia married Maximo Licauco III.
In 1992, the National Book Store patriarch Jose Ramos passed away.
Socorro Ramos standing near the sign ‘Bargain Paperbacks’ while arranging books at National Book Store
Socorro Ramos standing near the sign ‘Bargain Paperbacks’ while arranging books at National Book Store
When she turned 88 in 2011, Socorro Ramos, who’s affectionately referred to as Nanay Coring (literally “Mother Coring”), already had:
  • nine grandchildren
  • 11 great-grandchildren
One of her grandchildren, Mia Christina “Trina” Licauco-Alindogan, used to be a regional manager for the company. She currently serves as the chairperson of National Book Store Foundation.
Virginia Sian-Ramos, more known in the business community as Virgie Ramos, is the president of Swatch Philippines, which will mark its 35th anniversary in the country in 2024.
A devout Roman Catholic, Socorro Ramos told Philippine Star in 2011 that her “bodyguards” are the saints and angels.
She keeps 268 statues and relics of them:
  • 233 in her house
  • 35 in her National Bookstore office
The mouth-watering lechon(a whole roasted pig), is her favorite. It’s a popular Filipino food usually served during special occasions, such as weddings and town festivals.
As for her favorite saint, it’s San Antonio de Padua(St. Anthony of Padua), the patron saint of lost items.
Socorro Ramos shared that she lost rings several times but found them again after praying for his intercession.
Any favorite celebrities?
Yes, she has one: local actor John Lloyd Cruz.
Full NameMaria Socorro Cancio-Ramos
Age100 (2023)
Date of BirthSeptember 23, 1923
Place of BirthSanta Cruz, Laguna, Philippines
NationalityFilipino
ParentsJose Cancio; Emilia Cancio
Siblings5 (one of them, Manuel Cancio)
EducationCayetano Arellano High School (CAHS)
Civil StatusWidow
HusbandJose “Tsip” Ramos (died: 1992)
ChildrenAlfredo C. Ramos; Benjamin C. Ramos; Cecilia C. Ramos-Licauco
OccupationNational Book Store founder and chairman (retired)
Net Worth
Company Websitewww.nationalbookstore.com
Instagram (@nationalbookstore)266,000 followers

Socorro Ramos Success Story

Remember the Goodwill Bookstore branch in Escolta in Sta. Cruz, Manila, where they met?
They bought it and renamed it National Book Store, according to Philippine Star.
It’s located at the ground floor of a two-storey building at Calle Escolta corner Plaza Santa Cruz (this plazaor park is still there).
At the second floor was a budget restaurant, which mainly served pansit(also spelled as pancit; which is a Chinese-inspired stir fry noodles), called Panciteria Nacional (nacionalis Spanish for national).
It’s thought that Socorro Ramos and her husband named their bookstore after this panciteria(or pancitrestaurant). No, they didn’t. They named it after their National cash register - for no special reason at all, according to Socorro Ramos.
Side Note:It’s manufactured by National Cash Register Company (formerly National Manufacturing Company; 1881-1884) in Ohio, which eventually became NCR Corporation. It was split into three companies in October 2023.
An old model of a National cash register, with nine rows of round buttons and 10 buttons per row
An old model of a National cash register, with nine rows of round buttons and 10 buttons per row
Aside from books, they also sold different goods, including candies, slippers, and soaps.
They did business during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines (1941-1945) and right in the middle of World War 2 (1939-1945).
Unfortunately, during the horrifying Battle of Manila (February 3, 1945-March 3, 1945), the whole city was razed to the ground, with almost all buildings and infrastructures bombed and destroyed.
After World War 2, Jose and Socorro Ramos rented out a space somewhere in Avenida corner Soler Street in Manila. This time, they sold more books, such as school textbooks.
The couple decided to open their business at a time when schools started operating in postwar Manila, according to Arellano High School alumni website.
Their timing was fantastic: books and school supplies were highly in demand.
In 1948, however, Typhoon Gene blew off the entire roof of National Book Store, leaving all the books and other inventories soaking wet.
The incident shocked Socorro Ramos so muchthat she nearly had a heart attack, according to her 2012 Inquirer interview.
She recalled:
Back to zero again.- Socorro Ramos
To start anew, the couple took a 300,000-peso bank loan.
They used the money not only for books and other merchandise but for the construction of a two-storey building in the same lot where the typhoon-ravaged National Book Store stood.
Façade of an old National Book Store in Avenida, Manila, with its mezzanine surrounded by windows
Façade of an old National Book Store in Avenida, Manila, with its mezzanine surrounded by windows
This time, it’s made of stone to make it sturdier, and a mezzanine was added to accommodate more books.
Jose and Socorro Ramos worked even harder, sometimes getting only three hours of sleep.
They only hired two store helpers, and tried to scrimp as much as they could because they’re saving up to buy a prime lot across their store in Avenida.
She told Philippine Star in 2001:
We did the cleaning, dusting, and arranging of the books. We fixed the show window up to three o’clock in the morning. We went from being janitor to sales clerk.- Socorro Ramos
In 1955, they finally purchased the lot. Then they saved again. In 1963, they built a nine-storey National Bookstore there.
They named it Albecer Building, after their children (ALfredo, BEnjamin, CEcilia; the “r” from “Ramos”).
In 1973, from her own-made greeting cards, Socorro Ramos succeeded in getting the Hallmark Cards franchise.
From then on, National Book Store soared in popularity and profited tremendously.
In 1988, according to Entrepreneur Philippines, National Book Store’s gross revenue reached $34.7 million, securing its place in the top 100 Philippine corporations.
By 2001, per Philippine Star, there were 40 National Book Store branches. In 2011, it grew to 150, with 4,500 employees.
In 2012, Entrepreneur Philippines said that it captured 80 percent of the country’s book market.
As Socorro Ramos told the magazine in 2012:
We price low. We don’t fool people. We buy at a certain price, then just put in a little margin.- Socorro Ramos
She added:
That’s how we put value to our customers. It is very important to be truthful to them.- Socorro Ramos
For example, as she shared in an undated interview for My Store, My SM, they would reprint an imported 300-peso Algebra book and sell it for 75 pesos.
Speaking of SM, a popular Philippine chain of malls, Socorro Ramos said that she became good friends with its owner, Henry Sy (1924-2019).
He would inform her about the opening of a new SM mall (and that he already reserved a place for her).
National Book Store operates in 50 SM mallsnationwide.

Leadership Style Of Socorro Ramos

According to a 2017 ABS-CBN article, Socorro Ramos spends a lot of time talking to employees and getting their insights and feedback.
A leader who likes asking questions to subordinates and listening to their inputs is said to have, according to Indeed.com, a democratic leadership style, aka “participative style” of leadership.
Through the years, Socorro Ramos have received awards to acknowledge and praise her outstanding leadership and business skills:
RecognitionAward-giving Body
Gintong Ina Award for the Business and Industry Sector (1988) President Corazon C. Aquino
Agora Award for Outstanding Achievement in Entrepreneurship (1991)Philippine Marketing Association
Millennium Plaque of Appreciation (2000)Book Development Association of the Philippines (BDAP)
DTI Outstanding Filipino Retailer Award (2001)Philippine Department of Trade and Industry (DTI)
Maverick Awards (2002)Association of Accredited Advertising Agencies
EY Entrepreneur of the Year Philippines (2004)Ernst & Young
Woman Entrepreneur of the Year 2004SGV Foundation
Legacy Award (2004)Book Development Association of the Philippines (BDAP)
Outstanding Filipino (TOFIL) AwardJunior Chamber International (JCI) Philippines
Filipino-Chinese Federation of Business and Professional Women of the Philippines Award for Business (2007)Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FFCCCII)
MVP Grand Bossing Award (2011)PLDT (formerly Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company)

National Bookstore Today

In August 2023, Esquire interviewed the president of National Book Store, Inc.
Adrian Ramos said that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic“contributed to devastating” the company.
From 2020 to 2023, they closed 19 stores. Eight of them mainly suffered from pandemic-related problems.
As of August 2023, there are 238 National Book Stores in the Philippines.
National Book Store beside Bayo inside a mall, with a mother and two daughters in tow at the entrance
National Book Store beside Bayo inside a mall, with a mother and two daughters in tow at the entrance

Socorro Ramos - People Also Ask

What Was Socorro Ramos Inspirational Quotes?

In her 2001 Philippine Star interview, Socorro Ramos talked about her secret to success:
The secret is really an open-secret. There’s no luck or marketing magic involved. National Bookstore grew because of pure hard work, and our determination to live off on a very modest profit margin. Let me say that again: very modest profit margin.- Socorro Ramos
In the vernacular, she added: “We don’t rush ourselves to make profits.”
“That is our secret,” Socorro Ramos concluded.
Here’s another one, from the same interview. This time, it’s about having a wholesome business competition:
You cannot cover the sun with your ten fingers. Light will still pass through. It is in the same sense that I love competition in this business.- Socorro Ramos
Lastly, of course, there should be one regarding reading. Socorro Ramos said, as quoted by the Arellano High School alumni website:
Reading not only is as essential as breathing, but just as I have experienced, it will also lead to many exciting passages marked with success.- Socorro Ramos

What Is The Corporate Culture Of The National Book Store?

According to Devex, National Book Store’s corporate culture is anchored on its core values of:
  • Malasakit(a Filipino term which refers to having/showing concern for others)
  • Innovative
  • Dignity
  • Service-Oriented
  • Excellence
  • Team Work

What Is The Strategy Of National Book Store?

National Book Store’s (NBS) principal strategy is to sell books and other products at prices appealing to consumers and at the same time will still give decent profit to the owners.
Socorro Ramos has emphasized this in her interviews.
In her 2016 interview with award-winning business educator and best-selling author Josiah Go, NBS Managing Director Xandra Ramos-Padilla said that the company embraces constant reinvention.
Padilla said that NBS has expanded its product line, explored online selling, and created a customer service hotline.
Socorro Ramos in red long sleeve buttoned clothes smiling widely and a bookshelf behind her
Socorro Ramos in red long sleeve buttoned clothes smiling widely and a bookshelf behind her

Final Thoughts

In 1977, writer and journalist and National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin (1917-2004) wrote an article titled “Super Salesgirl.”
The one being referred to was Socorro Ramos for being an all-around businesswoman: cashier, janitor, packer, window designer, etc., when times were still extra tough for National Bookstore.
“Socorro” means “help” and “relief” in Spanish.
Through hard work and determination, notwithstanding World War 2 and natural disaster, she created a company that has helped millions of students - and parents! - in their academic journey.
It’s a relief to know that Socorro Ramos didn’t quit at the first instance (and the second and third and more!) of tragedy.
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