It started with a dream of having her own little bookshop. In 2010, Padmapani “Padma” Perez decided to make that come true. Perez may have gone to the University of the Philippines Diliman in Quezon City for college and had just defended her dissertation for her Ph.D. in Environmental Anthropology from Leiden University in the Netherlands, but she knew her bookshop could only be in one place: Baguio City.
Together with her anthropologist sister Feliz, Padma had grown up in Baguio the daughter of director Butch Perez and writer Adelaida Lim of the city’s landmark Café by the Ruins. “All we knew was that we loved books and we’ve been lucky to have traveled and seen different kinds of bookstores around the world. We had the feeling, ‘if only we could have bookshops like that here,’” she recalls. “Our being Baguio girls made us want to do that here in our hometown.” In 2010, the Perez sisters established Mt. Cloud Bookshop in a cozy corner of Casa Vallejo, the historic hotel.
Ten years later, Mt. Cloud is now a Baguio landmark as well, a must-see for visitors to the scenic vacation capital, pushing pages at 4,741.8 feet to a population of 345,000 people. The shop moved last year from Casa Vallejo to its current location on Yangco Road. “We needed more shelf space and event space,” Padma, writer as well as Asia editor and project lead for Agam International at the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, said. “We loved Casa Vallejo but it was very small. When we had events the participants would spill out onto the sidewalk.”
When Mt. Cloud first opened, people would walk in and be flummoxed because it had no school supplies. Now, Baguio knows where to get its books. “We now carry a much larger selection of titles,” she said. “We have about 3,000 titles in the shop and the vast majority are Filipiniana. What’s great is there are a lot of wonderful new Filipiniana books being published across genres and in different Philippine languages. We have a growing collection of books written in Ilokano, for example.”
Located over an old house with a garden, Mt. Cloud hosts events, growing its community: Hot Cat serves coffee downstairs and in the garden, Behind Bars is a bike shop. Opening soon is what Padma calls a “creativity accelerator for kids of all social backgrounds” called VIVISTOP Baguio.
Mt. Cloud has its own literary traditions now: the monthly open mic Third Monday from the Sun and the annual reading of Nick Joaquin’s short story “May Day Eve,” this year online with Gabe Mercado and Lissa Romero de Guia. Mt. Cloud even has its own mascots. First, there is Rain, originally a feral wild horse from Itogon, Benguet, trained for riding. After training with him, Padma’s daughter Solana took in Rain during the lockdown. “Mt. Cloud volunteered the garden as a space for him to live and he returns the favor by being our mascot, our physical distance enforcer—seriously, he’s not very friendly—and resident Rain Cloud,” Padma said. Feliz’s half-Labrador half-Belgian Malinois mix Indie is also a mascot.
The new coronavirus disease lockdown shuttered Mt. Cloud for two months. “The two months of zero business means huge losses for us,” she said. “We missed one of our peak seasons. Our next peak season is around December and we don’t know yet what that will look like.” Mt. Cloud happily reopened on May 25, with an added emphasis on its online business. Mt. Cloud actually takes photographs of what is actually on their shelves that you can view on their Facebook page. “Reopening and selling books online was a decision crucial to our survival as a bookshop,” Padma said. Still bursting with all colors and shapes, Mt. Cloud has employed shorter shop hours, physical distance markers, hand soap dispensers, paper towels, a plastic shield at the counter, disinfecting foot bath, limited browsing times and constant cleaning.
Mt. Cloud launched a series of innovative subscription services in 2015 (P600-P2,800), including the Stratus Cloud Book Surprise package which allows the staff to choose a book they think you would like regardless of category to be shipped nationwide. “It’s a great way to get to know books and authors outside of your usual choices,” Padma said. “You know how you might never buy yourself neon pink clothes, for example, but one day someone gives you a neon pink and it turns out you love wearing that color? It’s a bit like that.”Local
Of course, Mt. Cloud is well known for being a bastion for Philippine publications with sections such as Philippine Cordillera, Kiss My Poetry and Children’s Literature. There may be no better selection of local books in the land.
The shop’s manager Marisol Montilla said, “Local is love for our land, peoples, heritage, history, languages and ourselves. Reading local means we don’t need to interpret or create adaptions or accommodations to understand the setting.” Feliz has asked people, writers and indie publishers to “believe when we and many others say that Filipinos read, that they seek out poetry, and that independent work is as valuable as any company-funded work.”
Padma is now helping put together an international literary anthology on climate change which is a sequel to the prize-winning 2014 anthology “Agam: Filipino Narratives on Uncertainty and Climate Change” and hosts Agam the Climate Podcast. She has two daughters: Solana, 25, and Aila, 8. The endurance of Mt. Cloud highlights the unique importance of cities having a beloved independent bookstore and required faith in a dream that’s become real. “There was a time we thought we were going to have to close the shop,” Padma said. “That was about three years into the business. That year, the shop broke even for the first time and we decided to stick it out.” Along the way, Mt. Cloud has had to learn the business side. “We’ve learned the hard way that there are no shortcuts. But best of all, we’ve learned that you can be a small bookshop that sells only books.”
She expresses the hope that their patrons will continue to support them, and that those who have a bookshop like theirs in their midst do so as well, wherever they are: “Supporting a local, independent bookseller could mean you’re supporting someone who walks the same streets as you, maybe even has the same sukis in the market as you.”
Behold then, Baguio’s big little bookshop, an establishment that reflects the quirky identity of its city. “It’s a really good feeling to still be around and to be embraced by a growing community of writers and readers,” Padma said. “We’re very proud that Mt. Cloud Bookshop has become a hub for creativity in Baguio City. We feel like we’re playing an important part in the life of the city we love.”
Mt. Cloud Bookshop is at No. 1 Yangco Road (near Pink Sisters and across the rotunda from Brent International School), Baguio City; tel. 0744209154; Follow @mtcloud on Facebook and Instagram; @mtcloudbookshop on Twitter.