As a kid growing up in Kuwait in the 80s I used to pass by Muthana Complex in Kuwait City all the time with my family. Back then Muthana Complex was what Avenues is to Kuwait today, it was a beautiful mall and it used to get pretty packed on weekends. We had friends who lived in the apartments in Muthana so we were there pretty often, probably once a week. Whenever we used to be done visiting our friends we would head into the mall and the first shop we would see was The Kuwait Bookshops. We’d always walk in and either me or my sister would always end up leaving with a book or a magazine. But the Kuwait Bookshops was around way before the 80s and way before I was born. Last night I sat down with the owner of the bookshop Bashir Alkhatib and this is the story of The Kuwait Bookshops.
Bashir moved to Kuwait in 1959 after studying in the US. He started working at the Ministry of Information and grew frustrated really quickly that he couldn’t buy any books in Kuwait. He used to love to read and there wasn’t any place that sold books so he thought to himself, this town needs a bookshop. In 1961 he opened The Kuwait Bookshops in the Thunayan AlGhanim building on Soor Street. It was one of the most advanced buildings in Kuwait at the time and one of the first to have an elevator. According to Bashir, the bedouins used to come in from the desert and stand in line to watch “the horse” that can go up and down. Back then the Thunayan AlGhanim building also housed the KOC offices as well as the British Consulate and they were his best customers. Bashir continued to work at the Ministry while also running the bookshop, he actually had to work at the Ministry overtime so he could afford to pay the expenses of the bookshop.
One of the bookshops customers was a British guy who used to come in regularly to pick up the English paper The Times. One day he came in to pick up the paper but he couldn’t find any so he asked Bashir, why don’t you have The Times? Bashir replied telling him he hadn’t paid the bill so they stopped sending his bookshop the papers. He asked him how come you didn’t pay the bill? Bashir told him that he didn’t have the money so he couldn’t. Turns out the customer was a manager at Gulf Bank and told him to pass by him at the bank. So Bashir went to Gulf Bank and sat with the manager who asked him, whats your dream? Bashir told him his dream was to have a bookshop similar to the ones in England and the US. After around an hour of chatting the manager told him he would give him an overdraft of KD10,000 guaranteed by the manger himself. Bashir took the money and got on the plane and headed to London where he met with various publishers. He managed to strike deals on credit where he would be able to buy books and newspapers and pay them back 90 days later which helped him a lot financially. The Kuwait Bookshops became one of the first to import books and newspapers to the Gulf.
In 1964 he opened his second location in Ahmadi due to popular request since his KOC customers kept asking for a location closer to them. Bashir used to originally get his magazines and papers from England but there was a distribution company that used to get magazines and newspapers from the US so in 1970 he decided to purchase that distribution company. Due to the amount of books, magazines and newspapers they were getting they had to get a warehouse to store all the items since there wasn’t enough space in the Soor and Ahmadi locations to display everything. Then in the mid 80s Muthana Complex started being built down the street from their Soor location so he purchased a shop there. In 1986 Muthana opened and The Kuwait Bookshops was one of the first shops to open there.
In 1990 the invasion happened and the shop got ransacked by the Iraqi soldiers. After the invasion Bashir went to his publishers one by one and asked them how much he had owed them but the publishers all told him that any debt he owed before the invasion would be wiped clean and they would start fresh from again. In 1992 The Kuwait Bookshops reopened and it’s been there ever since.
Due to irreconcilable differences between the partners, The Kuwait Bookshops is currently at risk of getting liquidating. The only way to save the bookshop is to buy out the other partner. If by December 5th the bookshop isn’t saved, then the bookstore along with it’s history will vanish. It’s depressing because The bookshop is a part of Kuwait’s heritage and once it’s gone its gone. There is currently a hashtag being used #savekuwaitbookshops on Instagram and Twitter so if you do pass by the store please hashtag your photos. Maybe with enough awareness someone will come in and help save the shop. If anyone by any chance is interested in possibly buying out the other partner, please [Email Me]