One of the rare bright spots of the lockdown was the Cebu Barter Community (CBC) page on Facebook. CBC currently has over 200,000 members gathered in a space of a few weeks. Carrying the hashtags #CBCforbarter and #CBCforoffer, the items exchanged range from household basics such as groceries, plants, and appliances to extravagant offers like jewelries, vehicles, and properties. The backstories of engagement rings and teddy bears bartered because the romance was gone provide momentary comic relief amid the sense of isolation brought by the pandemic. Humble offerings like malunggay among other backyard-grown vegetables for fast food and school supplies desired by children illuminate the charity of Cebuanos. Young artists and skilled professionals offering their services demonstrate both creativity and resilience in these trying times. I myself raised a few items for barter. While there were interests and commitments, I never had a #DoneDeal or successful barter yet due to the border controls imposed in Cebu’s key cities.
I was looking for a misplaced book when I chanced upon my fragile copy of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With Wind (GWTH). GWTH, both the novel and the film adaptation, is beloved for its classic love story and depiction of racism and the American Civil War. I had memorized Rhett Butler’s breakup speech to Scarlett O’Hara and while the exact sequence of the words are forgotten now, its power is tattooed on my mind. Holding my first copy of GWTW, I recalled the novel’s significance to my life as a book lover. My copy was bought at the now defunct Music House in 1997 when I was in fourth year high school. Music House was modern Cebu’s original barter story. Story-hungry kids like me who didn’t have enough money for brand new titles could go to Music House to exchange our old books. I posted this memory in CBC and within a few hours the post generated hundreds of positive reactions. The wonderful comments circled around fondness and nostalgia.
Music House was situated along D. Jakosalem Street in Cebu City, right beside that garbage-infested creek that flows beneath Gaisano Main in Colon. It was called such because the shop also sold pre-loved musical instruments as well as records on cassette, CD, and vinyl. Music House also displayed furniture, clothes, shoes, and whatnot. I discovered Music House after I lost a UP library copy of a Hardy Boys mystery. As I didn’t have the money to purchase a brand new replacement, my then first year high school classmates and now friends for life Jean and Ody brought me to Music House. Throughout high school and college, I frequented Music House until it burned down. It reestablished itself as Cebu Thrift House along Manalili Street, but it eventually closed as well.
Music House’s cool barter story worked like this. You just had to bring your old book that is more or less comparable to the book you want. Then you pay an additional one-third of the price of the book you want to exchange. It was just like renting a book for a week. After reading, you may want to keep it if it’s a good one otherwise you may just barter it for another title. It was at Music House that I got my copies of novels by Danielle Steel, Sidney Sheldon, Stephen King, and John Grisham. Practically all my Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mystery stories were bought at Music House, all passed on to a friend’s daughter some years back. I have since updated the titles I got at Music House, now opting for hardbacks or trade paperback formats. My reading life has likewise evolved though I remain a Stephen King fan. If reading were a romantic affair, then Music House would be my first great love.
Here are some of the comments of my post about Music House at the CBC Facebook page. From Rose Armado, ‘’My mom used to bring me there all the time. She loves to read and she will always bring me to that shop. That’s where my love affair with books started. One of the best memories of my childhood.”
Dal Rodriguez said that she would go to Music House with her grandmother when she was an elementary student. She added, “Fortunately, I do have all the books she bought there including this (Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds). I have a copy of GWTW also from Music House. My Lola is already 92 years and still loves reading!”
The impact of Music House is perhaps best articulated by Joy Venus. She said, “Music House made books available to everyone at minimal price. Maybe they never realized it but they helped build a reading community.” I don’t know exactly for how long Music House operated but its impact, particularly to us Gen Xers, is indelible: it created a generation of Cebuano readers and literature lovers.
I have been collecting books for almost three decades already and lately I am exploring the idea of opening a bookshop. Business will be conducted mostly online with our other house left behind by my Tito converted into a physical bookshop that can be open for visits or book sharing events. My life continues to be enriched with the love for reading and I share thoughts and inspirations gathered from books and articles whenever I can. Opening a purpose-driven enterprise feels certainly divine.
Admittedly, this idea would be difficult to execute because first, I am not an entrepreneur. I have poor business sense. Second, I have a hard time letting go of my books; even choosing titles for exchange at CBC was already an ordeal. And while my library has over a thousand titles, replenishing the stocks would be a challenge as I don’t know suppliers of used books except Booksale branches in Cebu. But the barter template of Music House might just be the solution to create a balance between sustaining the business and doing social good. Perhaps this idea might reintroduce Music House to a new generation of book lovers.