Harrison Plaza shuts down Dec. 31, mall tenants to vacate by Jan. 31

Published December 30, 2019, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Hanah Tabios

The iconic mall shuts down at yearend, bringing to a close a chapter in Manila mallgoers’ lives.

(photo by Mark Balmores)
(Photo by Mark Balmores)

More than four decades since the country’s first one-stop-shop mall opened its doors to the public, Harrison Plaza will finally bid goodbye to its avid shoppers and long-time tenants as its owners ordered its permanent shutdown on the last day of the year, Dec. 31.

In a memorandum circular obtained by the Manila Bulletin, Erik J. Martel, the establishment’s general manager, gave all store owners until Jan. 31, 2020 to pull out all their items, furnishings, and other belongings.

“After the said date, the mall shall be padlocked and turned over to the new owners,” Martel said in the memo.

Although there was no confirmation from the family as to who will take over the seven-hectare property, decades-long tenants and previous reports revealed that it has been sold to SM Prime Holdings.

Established by the Martel family in 1976, Harrison Plaza was the first air-conditioned mall in the country. At its peak it housed over 180 shops, restaurants, and services outlets. But time overtook it and the once fancy fixtures faded over decades of use.

“Eviction notice”

Rumors of Harrison Plaza’s impending shutdown began circulating some two years ago. Then in April 2018, SM Prime Holdings chair Henry Sy Jr. said in an interview that the Martel family was willing to sell the property, and SM was poised to manage it.

During that period, the deal between the two influential families had not yet gained much attention from the public. But in July this year, the news broke that the Martels released the first eviction notice to the tenants in May.

Luna descendant witness to change

Freddie Luna Cruz, 67, dubbed the “icon of Harrison,” is one of the witnesses to the change.

Portrait artist Freddie Luna Cruz, 67, a descendant of famed 19th century Filipino artist Juan Luna, soon vacate his spot at Harrison Plaza after 42 years. The former upscale shopping complex will cease operations on Tuesday, December 31. (Photo by: Hanah Tabios)
Portrait artist Freddie Luna Cruz, 67, a descendant of famed 19th century Filipino artist Juan Luna, soon vacate his spot at Harrison Plaza after 42 years. The former upscale shopping complex will cease operations on Tuesday, December 31. (Photo by Hanah Tabios)

Cruz, the great-grandson of famed 19th century Filipino artist Juan Luna, has run a tattoo parlor and painting studio at Harrison Plaza for more than 40 years.

“Biruin mo, minemo kami na magco-close na ng July 31st three months before July,” he said. (Would you believe, they told us they would close the mall on July 31st only three months before.)

Unlike other tenants, Cruz has a long-standing connection with the Martels because he was the family’s former personal portrait artist. But that connection did not hinder him from standing up for his and others’ rights as tenants and workers.

“Sabi nila mag-propose tayo ng group association ng mga tenants. Sabi nila, ikaw na mag-lead, Fred, dahil ang tagal mo na rito saka kilala ako ng mga may-ari,” he said.

(They said, let’s set up a group association of tenants. They said, you lead it, Fred, because you’ve been here so long and you know the mall owners.)

He said the administration prohibited them from creating an association but with the sudden turn of events, they went ahead and did so. Cruz led the group while his neighbor Elena Chua, 65, who owns a food business adjacent to his spot, became its secretary.

Talking to tenants

Chua first opened shop in Harrison Plaza in 1998.

“Nag-usap kami ni Freddie, sabi ko bakit gano’n, bakit bigla-bigla?” she told the Manila Bulletin in an interview. (Freddie and I talked. I said, why is all this so sudden?)

When the informal union was formed, she said several meetings were held at her place.

“Lahat ng tenant dito kinausap ko rin, sabi ko magkakaroon ng meeting tungkol sa ganyan. Lahat naman agree,” she added. (I talked to all the tenants about it and all agreed.)

In addition to her own work, Chua turned into a kind of “promodizer” (promotions merchandiser) for their “save the mall” effort, personally distributing flyers to all mall occupants to constantly keep them updated.

“Si Fred ang gumagawa ng content ng letter… Ako na ang nag-pass ng mga flyers at talagang t’nyagaan ko ‘yon, kasi gusto ko ring mag-survive. Gagawin ko ‘yon maski na hindi ko sila kilalala, lalapitan ko sila,” an emotional Chua said.

(Fred wrote the letters. I distributed the flyers and I persevered because I also wanted to survive. I would do that even if I didn’t know them, I would approach them.)

Their combined efforts led to the six-month extension of their contract. But management released a final memo last December, telling tenants they have up to Jan. 31 to vacate Harrison Plaza.

Where to?

Mall goers are now asking: “Saan na po kayo lilipat?” (Where will you move to?)

Some items were sold at a very low price since the final memo from the Martels circulated which orders all tenants to vacate their spaces until January 31, 2020.
Some items were sold at a very low price since the final memo from the Martels circulated which orders all tenants to vacate their spaces until January 31, 2020. (Photo by Hanah Tabios)

Until now, the majority of tenants remain clueless about their fate after its closure.

Some of them said they will take the opportunity to rest, but others will welcome 2020 with a heavy heart.

For Chua, who started her business in a makeshift eatery during the first EDSA People Power Revolution, the iconic shopping center became her second home. She is dismayed about leaving the place and concerned for the future of her workers.

Nevertheless, she is grateful. “Nagpapasalamat ako sa Panginoon na binigay mo [ito] sa amin, maski na masakit sa kalooban ko na mawawala ito. Nagpapasalamat pa rin ako sa iyo, Lord, kasi nakatapos ang mga anak ko mag-aral [dahil sa trabaho ko dito],” she said.

(I thank the Lord for giving me this, even if it hurts me to see it go. I am still grateful to the Lord because my children finished school on the proceeds of the business I had here.)

Pioneer store

Byron’s tailoring and haberdasher’s shop will also vacate Harrison on the first day of January 2020. Known for its custom-made garments for men, the business has been running since the year the mall opened.

43-year-old tailoring and haberdasher shop byron’s will also close its Harrison branch after the permanent closure of the establishment. (photo via Hanah Tabios)
43-year-old tailoring and haberdasher shop byron’s will also close its Harrison branch after the permanent closure of the establishment. (Photo by Hanah Tabios)

The shop has catered to several big-name clients in the entertainment industry and politics, among them veteran stars Fernando Poe Jr., Susan Roces, Eddie Garcia, and fighting senator Manny Pacquiao.

It was established by couple Cesar and Zoila Magpayo, but they later sold it to Raquel De Joya who first entered Harrison Plaza in June this year.

“Dahil doon sa nilabas nilang memo, bumaba ‘yung sales, kasi ‘yung mga tao, [sabi nila] magsasara na ‘to, ano pang gagawin natin diyan, pero and’yan pa kasi ‘yung mga valued clients namin na may tiwala pa rin na gusto pa rin kaming sundan at gusto pa ring pumunta,” De Joya said. (Because of the memo, sales went down, because people thought, this place is going close anyway. But we have valued clients who continue to trust us and come to us.)

Another vendor said she has no choice but to suspend her business because she is finding it difficult to locate a place to transfer to.

 
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