Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — In Escolta’s glory days during the 1930s, a department store called Berg’s stood as one of the two sentinels marking the entrance to the bustling commercial district. The store was a repository of delights, from fashionable finds to colorful toys. But during the Battle of Manila in 1945, the German-run family business wasn’t spared, as were the rest of the buildings in Escolta. A Chinese businessman, Sy Lian Teng, eventually bought the Berg’s department store building, the structure that now stands as the First United Building, more recently frequented as the site of what used to be Saturday x Future Market @ Escolta.
The weekend market was part of the artist collective 98B COLLABoratory’s initiative to generate renewed interest in the street. For three years, it was a funky bazaar that housed a range of merchandise, from secondhand books, magazines and furniture to artisan crafts and food. It’s had a good run, but as 98B’s executive director, Marika Constantino, puts it, it was time to graduate from the small bazaar into something more sustainable. Hence, the bazaar’s evolution into Hub: Make Lab, a business incubator space for creative startups.
Hub is not as decidedly serious as a Silicon Valley boomer or a food cart on the sidewalk. Rather, it’s a fun playground for people interested in trying out an idea that could probably go long. “It’s about maintaining the DIY vibe and promoting the creative process,” Constantino says. “But if you’re serious about making this [venture] entrepreneurial thing, you can try here and experiment. This is an incubation space for anyone who’s thinking of doing a startup, especially creatives. Even if you do lose, it’s not going to be a lot because the terms are accessible.”
Hub occupies the same location of the former Saturday Market, and for its first batch, has some carryover tenants from the monthly fair. The entire floor, with leasable spaces ranging from 6.12 to 12.25 square meters, serves 22 businesses. Among them are Gen. Mdse, a selection of Manila-made products such as apparel, paper crafts, prepackaged edibles, and pet accessories; MNL Grow Kits, which sells plants in boxes; Nitzmart, run by a senior citizen who sells bags from Cebu and Davao; Forever Ugly, a lifestyle brand that “speaks for the others”; and U Find Gift Shop, which sells bouquets made out of cute toys and fluffy curios.
Constantino emphasizes the spirit of communal building within the collective while helping creatives forge a venue for their business ideas. “Creatives need opportunities,’ she says. “Just give it to them and they will be challenged by it and they will perform. Wala kasing binibigay na opportunity. Parang kailangan lang is for people to believe in them.”
Each space is available for a three-month experimentation period, and it is up to the tenants whether or not to extend the lease, which can run from ₱3,500 to ₱8,000 a month.
There is of course the problem of bringing people in, as downtown Manila can be both obscure and a somewhat alien place for a potential target market. But, as Constantino says, the lessons they learned from the Saturday Market can guide them to overcome this challenge, with, she hopes, the help of the creative community in Hub. “No other place in Manila has a mix of creatives, and a mixture of past, present, and the possibilities of the future,” she shares. “We’re hoping to appeal to a lot of people. We haven’t really tapped nearby schools, hotels, tourists. Once a month lang kasi yung market, so there was no point in doing it. We want people to come not just for the Hub but for the area as well.”
Constantino is also thankful that the building’s owners, Robert and Lorraine Sylianteng, have been gracious enough in venturing with 98B’s initiative, which is why Hub was constructed as a flexible space, with steel cubes open for customization by each tenant. Its architects, from 1/0 design collective, were careful in recognizing the history of the place, opting instead to create a setting that allows both the modern and historic elements of the place to flourish and work together. “Heritage shouldn’t just be about nostalgia,” says Constantino. “It's about what you can do with the memories and mistakes of the past and applying all these things to try and celebrate the fact that we can look at it with new lens. Hindi naman kailangan lahat museum-like.”
Above all, the initiative is meant to propagate more interest in revitalizing Escolta as a creative hub and a commercial district. “Of course we want [the tenants] to make money, but what you’re doing goes beyond selling,” Constantino affirms. “You’re part of this pioneering group that will help give the street more vitality. We want them to share the same love for the area.”
Hub: Make Lab is located at First United Building, 413 Escolta St., Manila. For more information and application guidelines, visit the Hub: Make Lab website.