With new structures like the Gateway Mall, the multi-storey National Bookstore, the LRT Purple Line, restaurants surrounding Araneta Coliseum and soon to dominate the Araneta Center skyline, the Manhattan Garden Suites, the Cubao we knew a few years ago is noticeably evolving.
However, remnants of the gritty Cubao, the one that shows its age despite an Araneta Center facelift still exist. I’m referring to a small square a short distance away from the swanky establishments called the Cubao Expo.
Formerly known as Marikina Shoe Expo, this place used to be a showroom for Marikina’s booming shoe and leather industry some decades ago.
Today, the shoe expo has morphed into a pleasing contradiction to its changing urban scenery offering more than just footwear and leather goods but some fascinating assortments of antique shops, thrift stores and cafe-cum-art galleries.
I agree with Charlene Sawit of Real Living Magazine when she suggested certain qualities one should posses to appreciate the shopping experience on this part of Cubao. These include “an ability to see romance in the run-down, a love for objects that come with stories, a disposition that appreciates the humor in the kitsch, the rare, and the strange, a sense of irony, and of course the willingness to sweat.”
The ambience at Cubao Expo is like taking a few steps back in decades. The square has that mom n’ pop feel, where owners tend their stores themselves and take time to chat up if one expresses interest and the afternoon is lazy enough.
Last December, paparrazo Roberto Bellini, owner of the landmark Italian restaurant named after him, personally welcomed us and took our order. We enjoyed the good food and the romantic ambience of Bellini’s.
The Grand Thrift Shop of James Yangco appeals to those who love objects with an interesting story. This antique store is a source of ephemeral and rare objects that brings nostalgia of the past decades.
Heritage has a branch in SM Megamall (Old Manila) but I frequently end up making purchases in their branch at Cubao Expo. For some reasons: the store is huge and has a feel of an authentic antique shop and very seldom do I find antique stores where the staff is well-verse in their merchandise.
Heritage is a good source of out-of-print publications, rare ephemera, paintings, and object-de-art.
A good time to drop by Cubao Expo is late in the afternoon where most of the stores are already open for business.
I think Cubao has reached a certain level of cultural appeal. Thanks to the existence of shops at Cubao Expo, people are given another place to experience a sense of culture.