When Edgardo Perea was a kid, his grandfather used to entertain a jueteng bookie in their humble home in Cavite. This was the 1960s, way before electricity and television reached their town. The man would tell them stories about Manila, a faraway place where water sprouts from the ground. It piqued his interest in stories and, later on, he found out that it was just a water fountain, a common sight in parks and church courtyards in the city.
He studied to be an engineer, lured by the title that it would bring to his name. Engineer Edgardo Perea, it said on the plaque in his old office. He was a boss, supervising other engineers, but his heart just wasn’t in it. “When my colleagues see a river, they think of the bridge they are going to build. For me, I imagine the people frolicking in the water. I think about the story,” he recalls with a laugh.
He quit his job in 1990 and decided to open a shop selling secondhand knickknacks. After two years of manning the store, he noticed that his most loyal customers were the ones interested in books. A few years into buying and selling paperbacks, he realized why the sales weren’t that great: he kept putting up books he liked rather that what his readers are interested in.
The bookseller did his research and, two decades into the business, he’s still at the same stall in Guadalupe Complex that has seen different kinds of customers, from transients who are just passing by and to some loyal customers who still visit time after time, looking for quality books on the cheap.
The store hit a major setback when it burned down in 1993. From the embers, he had to start it all over again from nothing. He now calls it JERVS, from the initials from his five children.
He used his storytelling to engage his kids. To his sons and daughters who are mostly millennials growing up with the gadget revolution of the ’90s, he used stories to get their attention. Coming home from manning the store, he would talk to his children and they would set aside their trinkets to listen to him.
Among hundreds of books, Mang Ed, as everyone fondly calls him, would be at the counter of his shop, watching a movie on a tiny screen of his portable DVD player. If not, you’ll find him fawning or repairing old books, fixing skewed covers or protecting them in plastic.
JERVS bookstore is lined with well-read paperbacks, some can be bought for three for P100 or cheaper. Perea also sells old issues of magazine but he prides himself for selling the classics.
Aside from his suppliers, he also gets the books from individuals looking to sell old treasures. “Some people come here to sell books, personal belongings that they want to dispose. For most people, these are junks they don’t know the real value of these books,” he said.
Mang Ed is generous with his words. A visit is worth countless of wisdom that is as valuable as the books he sells. It’s hard not to get distracted from your eager browsing when he speaks. He is a great conversationalist, usually engaging his customers. He even gives out advice to follow your passion, saying that “Convenience is the enemy of happiness, even a turtle knows that he has to stick out his head to get what he wants.”
He recalled that his business was better before when Filipino pocketbooks was thriving, but now, he’d be lucky if a hundred potential customers visit his store. Mang Ed maintains a positive outlook despite this and reckons that “you have to roll with the punches.”
Edgardo Perea was an engineer and has experienced selling all kinds of things. There was even a time where he was a martial arts gym owner but it is with books where he found his calling. “Find the work you truly enjoy and you’ll never have to work for the rest of your life. In selling books, when the customers see a book they like, they feel joy and you appreciate it at the same time, you earn money,” he said with a smile.