What We Lost in the Fire:
the UP Shopping Center
Will Never Be Forgotten
By Mikhail Lecaros
Classes notwithstanding, the UP Shopping Center was an integral part of the Diliman campus experience.
At around 7 am on March 8, a fire broke out at the UP Shopping Center. What began as wisps of smoke filling the building’s central corridor soon turned into an evacuation, with shopkeepers and early-morning customers alike rushing to save whatever they could carry. Within roughly half an hour, major news outlets had caught up to social media posts, giving the world a front row seat to the conflagration. Firefighting teams’ best efforts managed to put the fire out by 8:52 am. By then, however, the damage had already been done: while no serious injuries were reported, the greatest casualty was the SC itself. Where the proud, beloved hub of a community had stood since 1974, there was now only a blackened, burned-out husk.
More popularly known as the SC (or “Dilimall”, depending on your age), the Shopping Center’s official description on the school’s website is about as dry as they come: “includes the cooperative store and various commercial establishments. The UP shopping center provides basic needs for students, faculties, and employees, such as fast food, computer shops, RTWs, tailoring, barber shop, hair salon, typing jobs, bookbinding, photocopy, a bayad center and western union.” (sic)
While factually sound, it’s also entirely lacking. Here, with testimonials from people who were there, are eight real reasons why the SC will never be forgotten:
UNDER ONE ROOF
Along the narrow hall that ran the center of the SC, you were apt to run into anyone from professors to celebrities, all eager to partake of what the SC had to offer
In a Facebook post following the fire, Roby Alampay (whose family has owned and operated the Handog Gift Shop since the SC first opened) recalled a conversation he’d had three decades ago on what that the SC had to offer: “One can literally buy anything in that small strip of, what, 200-odd meters? Ice cream, meat, seafood and vegetables, gifts, clothes, shoes, catering services, bopis, rice, extra rice, haircuts, typewriters, typists, mani-pedis, glass lab equipment, prescription glasses, sardines and eggs (for “sizzling sardines”), roses, fishballs, manggang hilaw, wrenches, blue prints, blue books, books, school supplies, floppy disks, computers, computer parts, etc.”
Thirty years on, the list is even more ridiculous, with entries like aquarium supplies, pet food, DVDs of rare movies, toys, gifts, and used books having been added to the mix. Simply put, if you needed to source something on campus, the odds you’d find it in the SC were pretty good.
SMALL -TOWN FEEL
Located in the center of the main corridor was the communal bulletin board seen in this photo posted by Lego Creative Director and writer Budjette Tan. Here, you could find or offer everything from piano lessons to used cars. Back in the days before cellphones, people would even leave notes for meet-ups!
The first thing you notice when you walked into the SC was a sense of community and familiarity, and it wasn’t hard to see why: Many of the shops, much like the Alampays’ Handog, had been around for decades, their original patrons giving way to their children, and their children’s children. Shop owners all knew each other and, even if they didn’t necessarily know all their customers by name, were always happy to accommodate their needs, no matter how esoteric.
As reminisced by photojournalist and fountain pen enthusiast Ronin Bautista, on his dealings with the pharmacy, which sold glass lab equipment: “Yung pharma, ok na source for syringes and vials for fountain pen use. They will tell you pa which ones are the right ones to get. Pag sa Mercury kasi, ang assumption durugista ka (they can’t understand the hobby).”
After five decades of catering to people from every walk of life, the SC was able to offer an unbeatable mix of variety and hospitality for the kind of customer experience money can’t buy.
A good 20 or so years before kiddie barbers and baby boutique shops, Vista Land’s Paolo Soriano got his first haircut in the SC, just one of the many lifestyle services available.
When we said that the SC was the beating heart of the University, nowhere was this more apparent than in the many lifestyle services on offer: If you needed your hair done, get a manicure, have a dress sewn, alter your clothes, fill a prescription, repair a watch, and/or get glasses made, you could it do it all here without breaking a sweat. Best of all, in addition to the reasonable prices, you’d get the distinctly small-town feeling of having the work done by people who actually cared about what they were doing.
Sarabia Optical owner Maria Nella Sarabia cared so much, she actually forewent following in her family’s footsteps of opening multiple branches of eyewear shops, electing to own and operate a small one so she could tend to her customers personally while keeping product costs down – definitely not the sort of dedication you’d find in a big mall chain.
THE FOOD TRIPS
Food stalls could be found on either end of the SC, offering sweet and savory treats for every taste
Long before Maginhawa became Quezon City’s Food Street, and years before food parks were a thing, the SC was UP students’ go-to spot for good, affordable food. Flanking the entrances at either end of the structure, welcoming stalls and carts offered snacks for every mood. As recounted by Odette De Guzman, a self-professed, “One of thousands of UP iskolars who sought (and experienced) solace in Dilimall,” the stalls hawking carioca, turon, banana cue, and pritong lumpia, made for perfect merienda fare (at any time of day). Of course, for more substantial meals, you could go inside and avail yourself of turo-turo, sandwiches – even Korean and Japanese food (!) – before finishing everything off with a scoop of ice-cream.
Of course, no list of UP Shopping Center cuisine would be complete without…