Founded by the late José Ramos along with his wife Socorro Cáncio-Ramos, the company has evolved from a small stall in Escolta that sold supplies, GI novels or US Armed Services Editions books, and school textbooks. When the Second World War broke out, strict book censorship enforced by the Japanese occupying forces forced them into selling soaps, candies, and slippers instead, buying their merchandise from wholesalers and peddling them to smaller retailers.
The Escolta area was razed during the 1945 Battle of Manila, and the Ramoses rebuilt their business by initially erecting a barong-barong (makeshift stall) at the corner of Soler and Avenida Rizal. In time to catch the post-War boom, they returned to selling textbooks, notebooks, pad paper, and pencils, the sales being good at the time as they had little competition. National Book Store was strategically opened in time to welcome school year 1946–1947.
After a typhoon in 1948 destroyed the store and damaged all the merchandise in 1948, the Ramos family decided to rebuild again, sleeping for only three hours a day after work. They eventually constructed a two-story building with a mezzanine, which was to become their retail store for many years.
In the 1950s, Socorro Cáncio-Ramos thought of producing a line of greeting cards and postcards using Philippine views and artwork. By creating a distinct design, it would promote Filipino culture to the rest of the world; the company later acquired the national franchise for Hallmark Cards. It was also at that time that they began a publishing programme with the assistance of international publishers such as McGraw-Hill, Prentice Hall, Lippincott, and Addison-Wesley.
After five years of negotiations, the Ramoses were able to acquire a piece of prime property owned by the Guerrero family in 1950. They started construction of the nine-storey Albecer Building, named after their three children—Alfredo, Benjamín, and Cecilia; the R standing for Ramos. When their children grew, they persuaded their parents to expand beyond the Avenida branch. Initially reluctant, the couple realised the opportunity envisioned by their children and they opened a new branch along Recto Avenue, catering to students in the nearby University Belt. In the 1970s, they acquired space in shopping centres that had opened in Cubao and Makati, and by the 1990s had over 50 branches nationwide.
1996 brought significant change to National Book Store. The family decided to change the company’s distinctive red cursive lettering and commissioned a Singaporean design firm to create a new brand. A more modern cursive font was used, and the peppermint candy-striped background was simplified to a solid, bold red. The store layout was also reformatted with colour-coded signs provided for sections and logical merchandise displays.
Expansion and PSE listing
National Book Store currently has 128 branches (including NBS Bestsellers) all over the Philippines, Metrobooks—a subsidiary store in Hong Kong that opened in 2007—, several National Book Store-Book Express mini-outlets and also several Powerbooks specialty bookstores. Also with the pending entry of National Book Store into the Philippine Stock Exchange through the renaming of Vulcan Industrial & Mining Corp., another Ramos-owned company, into National Book Store Retail Corp. they would now also venture into wholesale, publishing, printing, manufacturing, and distribution.