|Remnants GM Chito Soliven and owner Remy Cabaltera|
Remnants: That little shop of treasures
by rick olivares
In perhaps the last artiste’s haven in Manila, Cubao X… where intellectual rebels, indie designers, comic book geeks and gamers, rock purveyors, and the odd restaurateur find refuge, there too are the thrift shops. In the western hemisphere, these repositories are called, “pawn shops.”
It’s all just another name but as they say, the song remains the same. Here one man’s junk is another man’s gold.
In the case of one proprietor, they are remnants from the past that are in need of new homes; hence, the shop name, “Remnants,” a clever and apt play on the noun and the first name of its store owner, Remy Cabaltera.
The lady from Lanao Del Sur picked up from her late father the habit of keeping things. The wise man that he was, Remy’s father instructed her to never throw away anything outside the obvious trash. “They will be of some value some day,” he imparted. It became crystal clear when those old wartime Japanese newspapers he put aside were sold for quite a sum.
“That’s when I realized what my father had been talking about all these years about saving things,” recalls Cabaltera.
So junk, old stuff, antiques… whatever you want to call it, has become Remy’s life. She’s been in the business of re-selling things for over two decades now. Her first shop was at the old Farmer’s Market Center before it moves to its present location in along General Romulo Avenue in Cubao X (“Marikina Shoe Expo” as it was formerly named), that last bit of real estate that is a throwback to a bygone era and is sandwiched between the colossuses of gentrification known as the condominium.
“At first, I placed ads in the newspaper that I was open to buying people’s personal collections, junk etc.” said Remy. “As Remnants and the other thrift shops in Cubao X became popular, word of our stores and businesses spread by word of mouth. Now we don’t need to advertise.”
The clientele is diverse as the shops contained in the U-shaped arcade. She has celebrity and broadcast personalities who frequent her shop. Julius Babao, Cristy Fermin, Miriam Quimbao, Ronnie Ricketts, Aiza Seguerra, and Connie Sison are a few who have bought items in her shop.
There are a lot of foreigners who also visit her shop. “We had these bunch of Frenchmen come over and buy all the available local komiks,” related Chito Soliven, the store’s affable general manager. “I asked them how they will read them since they were all in Tagalog but they said they will learn and also use it to study the artwork.”
One time, a man from China flew in and went straight to Remnants from the airport, bought every single rock music vinyl album on display, and hopped on back on a plane. “He got everything – AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, the Beatles, Hendrix…”
Occasionally, there are genuine treasures sold in the shop.
“I had a customer who sold me a lot of items,” recounts Remy of a fish that got away. “It so happened that between the pages of one of the books, there was a piece of paper that had a sketch that was signed. I had a customer who was buying some furniture who immediately noticed the sketch. She asked, ‘Remy, magkano ‘to?’ I thought for a moment and then mentioned the first amount that popped into my head. I sold it for P3,500 and this customer would always always haggle for a lower price. This time she got it without any qualms. I only realized later on what I had on my hands. It was an original Ang Kiukok (the late National Artist for the Visual Arts) that was signed and dated. I think it taught me to really go through each and every item that comes to me as well as to properly appraise them.”
Another famous treasure sold in Remnants was a father clock that was given by former American President Franklin D. Roosevelt to his Philippine counterpart, Manuel Luis Quezon. There was a signed dedication on the clock that was sold for a little over P12,000.
Remy and Chito say that they usually go through bodegas of other people about twice a month. It usually picks up around January up to June when people are in need of money for their children’s schooling. “We spent a lot of hours going through dusty and moldy bodegas. But it’s all part of the fun.”
Cabaltera says that there’s been a slight drawback due to the popularity of the television reality show on the History Channel, Pawn Stars. “That made people aware of what they may have in their bodegas so the asking prices for their items has become larger in fee.”
“For some people, parting with their belongings is difficult because there’s an attached emotional value,” added Remy. “On several occasions now, I have had customers who sold me things only to buy them back because they had second thoughts about letting them go. I sold it back to them of course… at no profit. I don’t want people to say that I am holding their belongings to ransom.”
“But I’ve been lucky because through my thrift shops, I have been able to put my children through school. It remains a hobby because there is so much you learn through this. And it really makes me happy when these items find a new home. It pays to appreciate things.”
Author’s Note: Some of the items I bought from Remnants include a near mint condition copy of the first ever English language printing and edition of Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ “Love in the Time of Cholera” (1988 Albert Knopf/Doubleday) for P200 and a beaten up copy of the late Nonoy Marcelo’s Ikabod series, Dagang Sosyal that I used to have but have lost in the intervening years. Also for P150! I also have purchased a number of old Filipino komiks at Remnants.