The Shoes and Shops of Liliw

There’s more to Liliw, Laguna than shoes—there’s the small town appeal of its community, church, and shops.

By Katrina Stuart Santiago
January 15, 2011

Liliw in Laguna is known for its slippers and shoes, but it is also a place where one can experience the charm of local community life. Writer Katrina Stuart Santiago waxes poetic about Liliw's small town appeal.

There is plenty to love in the town of Liliw, in the Province of Laguna, the more obvious things being the shoes. Oh, I correct myself: cheap shoes. And I mean ballet flats that go as low as P150 pesos, and durable slippers of faux leather (not bad looking at all!) at P50 pesos. Suffice it to say that it is difficult to leave Liliw without a couple of boxes of shoes, and some slippers, too.

But the little known secrets of Liliw revolve around the space of its church. The current Church of Liliw, founded in 1605, has been renovated twice: first in 1880 due to an earthquake, and again in 1898 because of a fire. The current structure is a sight to behold. Made of red brick, the facade of the church evokes romance and majesty, as it seems to be more than its actual size. Natural plant growth on its exterior walls lends the Church of Liliw an air of being part of some fairytale or old romance novel.


Entering the church, the darkness is beautiful. Wooden pews and doors, dark floor tiles, and what looks like a ceiling of wood, against the brick walls, create a feeling of smallness and solemnity. On this day, the altar is being fixed and was empty of religious icons, yet people are quietly praying in front of it. As I sat down they turn around and smile. Such is the kind of community that the size the Church of Liliw creates.

This sense of community and kindness extends to the busy world outside. All of the church compound's exits lead to the bustle of small town commerce. The more famous exit is one that leads to Gat Tayaw Street, which filled with shoe stores as far as the eyes can see. My favorite is Entrada, with its contemporary footwear designs that rival what's being sold in Manila--or maybe it's that the Manila stores carry shoes made in Liliw. The stores along Gat Tayaw Street are filled with shoes of every imaginable style and color, make, and kind for whatever age, gender, and sexuality. In these old school, tiny stores, row upon row of boxes of shoes line the walls, to the ceiling when possible, and huge slippers adorn the storefronts.

Taking a break from the crowd jostling for shoes and stepping out to the street, Liliw shows me what else it's got. That is, beautiful fresh flowers sold in pots and in bulk, at prices three times lower than in Manila. These tents filled with bright natural color are a sight to behold in the midst of the smell of leather and rubber. Walking further down the street, I see a vendor selling teeny tiny rabbits. Tables are placed on the patches of road in front of stores, selling food and drink for the tired shoe shopper. I am reminded of my childhood Sunday mornings in Sto. Domingo Church in Quezon City, where everything and anything, from the standard to the absurd, is sold by vendors. 


As I continue my walk down Gat Tayaw, I look to the narrow alley that has Arabela at its corner which meets Rizal Street. I wonder if we can eat there today--some really good Italian food seems like a fitting respite from shoe shopping. Sadly it is filled, the downside to its small space, charming as that is. It is the summer after all, and people must be flocking here in droves. But I've got this memory of a non-summer visit to Liliw, and of Arabela being comfortably filled with customers, and of leisurely enjoying plates of Chicken Pomodoro and Seafood Fettucini. There was barely place for dessert, but there was space for really good cups of Cafe Americano, a fitting end to the meal. (Note to self: next time, reserve a table at Arabela's to try out its pastries.)

I go back up Gat Tayaw towards the Church of Liliw, my head filled with memories of good Italian food. But my taste buds are about to be satisfied here and now: the Liliw Bakeshop fills the air with the smell of freshly baked bread. I've got some love for local bakeries, but this one in the middle of all these shoe stores makes cake like no other. The Yema Roll as a Liliw attraction seems off-tangent from those shoes, but it is one other reason to go to this small idyllic town in the Province of Laguna.

Liliw's obviously got more to offer than shoes. And I say that with bags of local shoes in my hands and pretty Liliw slippers on my feet, and a crazy craving for that Yema Roll.


 Getting There

The town of Liliw is in the Province of Laguna, 30 km from Manila. There are two ways to get to Liliw. Via Laguna's capital city, Sta. Cruz: take a bus at Buendia or Cubao going to Sta.Cruz, get off at the Sta. Cruz bus station, and wait for jeepneys going to Liliw. Via San Pablo City: Take a bus going to Lucena and get off at San Pablo. Take a jeepney from the town proper. You will be passing the towns of Rizal and Nagcarlan through a national road before reaching Liliw.

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