Lords of retail

Published July 17, 2021, 12:09 AM

by Jullie Y. Daza

Medium Rare

Jullie Y. Daza

With the passing of Henry Sy, and Glecy and Bienvenido Tantoco, best known as the lords of retail who changed the shopping landscape of our cities in the last century, what do their descendants have up their sleeve? Their ancestors are a tough act to follow.

Expert marketers and retail merchants that they are in their own right, the current generations on both sides are challenged by their elders’ very success. Mr. Sy, Mr. and Mrs. Tantoco were visionaries who carved the unique Manila shopping experience out of thin air and sheer grit each in their own way. A visionary is ahead of his time, and once that vision turns into reality, his successors must breed or pray for the next family genius, who will most likely find his way by striking out in a totally different direction.

Mr. Sy started out with a shoe store in Carriedo near Quiapo church. The Tantocos’ first  boutique was on San Marcelino street. While Mr. Sy’s ShoeMart appealed to budget-conscious working girls and housewives, Glecy had her eye on the buyer who was looking for the finer things in life, who’d be delivered to the store in a chauffeur-driven car. Looking back, my classmates and I dared to visit Rustan’s only during a sale or on those rare times when we had to buy someone a special gift. (Now that I’m old enough to go by myself, I walk in to gawk at their fabulous Christmas gift displays and sumptuously decorated trees.)

ShoeMart became SM, establishing Metro Manila as the land of shopping malls, airconditioned, with clean toilets and lots of parking slots. Heaven on earth! By establishing standards of comfort and convenience, and providing customers the sheer delight of selecting affordable merchandise from a universe of goods, Mr. Sy had made shopping fun, minus the hassle. Rustan’s, meanwhile, became identified with ladies who had a taste for travel and missed the things they could have bought in Europe. And there Imelda Marcos and her Blue Ladies did their buying and ordering.

Between SM and Rustan’s, democracy is alive and well: Long may freedom of choice reign!

As Tessie Sy Coson, her father’s daughter, vowed: “Thinking young adds excitement and energy to our lives!” \