KUWAIT: Housewives driving their personal cars arrive in the day early hours to buy food and other necessities and commodities, sufficient for a day or a longer period of time, and in a matter of minutes the chores are done and the items with aid of an all-time ready worker are put in the trunk. This is not a supermarket in downtown Washington or Berlin, it is Al-Shamiya store located close to downtown Kuwait, and other modern and historic landmarks, such as the parliament building, remnants of the old fence that had existed a long time ago before the oil boom in the 60s of the last century, along with the building of the American Hospital, founded by an American missionary early last century-now turned into a museum.
Al-Shamiya shopping complex, which includes food products, fruits such as imported American and African apples, various fruits from Iran, Syria and Turkey, diverse commodities, clothes as well as cafes, namely Starbucks, is one of up to 51 co-ops dotting Kuwait’s residential districts and serving the estimated 1.4 million native population, as well as hundreds of thousands of expatriates. The market, which employs nearly 600 workers and managerial staff, along with its sisterly markets and branches situated in the heart of the other residential districts, such as Keifan, Shuwaikh and Al-Shaab, has developed over the years, in terms of structure, facilities and services. “We have recently added online services for our customers; posting our accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and applications on smartphones, offering our customers various information and services, such as prices of commodities, lucrative prices and offers, as well as information about sideline activities, also with reasonable costs,” said Ahmad Tantawi, a staff who works at the management of the market in Al-Shamiya market.
The online information include prices, special rates for some commodities and activities. When asked about the possibility of delivering products through online orders, Tantawi said the idea has been pondered over and remains under consideration. “However, once we apply it, we will need additional staff and we need to restrict such service to certain goods,” he said, explaining that “home delivery might not be easy selling products such as vegetables and fruits because some clients are picky.”Moreover, the market offers various activities for residents of the Al-Shamiyah district, a vast neighborhood of tree-ornamented streets and roads and green public parks, adjacent to the airport road and the nearby residential district Keifan. According to references, the term Al-Shamiyah derives from Al- Sham (the Levant) for caravans from the Levant used during olden days, to stop in the area for resting and watering goods-carrying camels.
Elaborating Tantawi indicated that the market work is not restricted to commodities trade. It offers activities for the residents, such as expeditions to the holy land and chalets’ booking at low costs. Moreover, the managers are planning to build a three-storey parking lot and expanding the warehouses. An affiliate branch in the district of Gharnata will be renovated and expanded on a 5,000-squaremeter plot of land. Co-op shareholders of Al-Shamiya and the 50 other markets and branches get annual dividends in addition to earnings per point, scored according to purchases.
Up to 25 percent of the co-op market earnings are invested in some services and utilities in the area where it is located, such as beautifying public sites and locations and purchasing decoration items for national occasions, such as the National Day. “We even offer commodities for free to personnel of some governmental facilities in the region, such as the Citizen Service office,” he explained. Each co-op market is managed by a board; Shamiyah comprises of nine members.
The co-op markets often grants gifts to clients. A citizen posted on Instagram information and pictures about a large box of foodstuff she had received from Mishref supermarket last fasting month of Ramadan. “I arrived home yesterday to a big fat colorful box tied with a pink ribbon, so heavy you couldn’t lift it on your own. At first I thought someone had sent me a gift box but looking closely I realised it had the Mishref Co-op logo on it! Never before have I seen a local co-op distribute such a beautiful and well thought of gift before!” she wrote.
The co-op movement in Kuwait dates back to 1941 when the first society was founded at Al-Mubarakiah School. In 1955, a consumer co-op was founded for employees of the social affairs department. Later, the Ministry of Social Affairs drew up laws to organize the co-op sector. Al-Shamiya and Keifan co-ops were founded in 1962, when the movement started to flourish on basis of the constitution that stipulated collaboration and justice among citizens.
The number of the co-op markets reached 43 in 1997, with up to 200,000 stock holders. The overall capital of the co-op reached KD 75 million in end of 1995. The total net profit the same year reached KD 14 million. The cooperative movement began in Europe in the 19th century, primarily in Britain and France, although The Shore Porters Society claims to be one of the world’s first cooperatives, being established in Aberdeen in 1498 (although it has since demutualized to become a private partnership). The first documented consumer cooperative was founded in 1769, in a barely furnished cottage in Fenwick, East Ayrshire, when local weavers manhandled a sack of oatmeal into John Walker’s whitewashed front room and began selling the contents at a discount, forming the Fenwick Weavers’ Society. By 1830, there were several hundred co-operatives. — KUNA