Save The Kuwait Bookshops

Post by Mark

kuwaitbookshop1

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.

kuwaitbookshop4

The History

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.

alghanimbuilding

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.

bookshop1990

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.

kuwaitbookshop2

The Present

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]

Note: First photo on top taken by Fabio Sabatini. Second photo taken by Nadia Nader.


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44 comments, add your own...


  1. We all saw this coming.

    A country that has over 2,000 fast food chains, countless malls but no bookshops is a country that is in self-destruction mode. The literacy rate in Kuwait is among the highest in the world yet seeing someone whipping out a novel or just a book here is a very rare sight.

    Reading a book here is considered taboo. Tell someone you read a book and they’ll say you’re “fadee”. Pitiful.

    Here’s an idea-Because this country is obsessed with everything American, why don’t they stop importing every single American fast food chain they can get their hands on and instead bring Barnes & Noble to Kuwait?

    Hashtag save the mom & pop stores. Hashtag bring Barnes & Noble over here.

    • aaa says:

      what the hell? It’s closing because the partners can’t stand each other anymore. Take your preaching somewhere else

    • aaa says:

      On top of that B&N is completely failing because of ebooks and services like Amazon, brick and mortar media sales are dead. It’s also a pretty bad chain. Kinokinuya in Dubai is WAY better than any B&N in the US. Hell the public libraries in the US, which are free, are better than most B&Ns.

      Also I see young people reading all the time, mostly Arabic books. You also don’t see people whip them out because it’s generally something you do at home.

      • Nasser says:

        I love Kinokinuya. I’m not much of a book reader, but I always end up buying a book or two whenever I go there.

      • If people read, there would be more than one bookstore. That-es Salasil is a poor excuse for a bookstore so it doesn’t count.

        Meanwhile, there is over 60 Burger Kings, 80 Starbucks…….1 bookstore in a run-down, mostly abandoned mall versus 60 Burger Kings, 80 Starbucks, over 100 McDonalds, over 100 KFCs and Hardees….you can go on & on.

        If people read, that same bookstore would have been able to renovate itself. The Little Mermaid & Beauty & the Beast posters are still there! LOL. They’ve been up there since the 1990s collecting dust. Anyone know what I’m talking about?

        You brought up a good point, bringing Kinokuniya here would be awesome. But more importantly, save Kuwait Bookshop! It’s a historic landmark.

        • kwttt says:

          Most Kuwaiti female students at government schools read, stop pretending you’re an expert on Kuwaiti society. People buy their books from book fairs and jareer, Kuwaiti Arabic books are best sellers and widely popular among the female youth especially at government schools. Most people in Kuwait aren’t Kuwaiti female youth and most Kuwaitis buy their books from book fairs

      • Yousiif says:

        A Kinokinuya type of bookstore will never be successful in this country at present because there is no demand for such a wide, diverse range of reading material. Although a few people on this post believe a partial segment of society (gov female students amongst others) read, this does not make up a majority stake of the population. Reading Arabic books by Arabic authors or few international bestseller translated into Arabic will also not create a viable market to open a respectable bookshop.

        Whs smith at the airport is a perfect case in point. When first opened the English material was extensive somewhat similar to a small outlet shop at heathrow. Couple of momths later the Arabic books took over catering to specific demand here.

        The western expat population in dubai (living residents & visiting tourists) as we all know are far higher in dubai than here. That I would imagine is what makes Kinokinuya successful.

        Kuwaiti trail mix good point. One thing kuwait can do (probably we can all do ) is make the community that we live in, parks, public spaces, urban planning more enticing for everyone to read. By developing community book clubs, discussions, group sessions, creative interactive coffee shops for readership groups will be the first stages of promoting demand and an appetite for further, deeper and more enjoyable reading. The reason why we might read at home is because the lack of above.

        Although many read for pleasure here I am also of the opinion that the majority do not read novels for pleasure but rather like to immerse themselves in short stories and current events, news articles etc. If this was the case there would again be action on the above mentioned. That’s my two sense worth from a person who was born, raised and lived in Kuwait for many many years.

    • nicolas says:

      Do you understand what the word ‘taboo’ means? Reading a book is most certainly NOT a taboo

      I suggest that you open a dictionary

      • I suggest that you open a dictionary.

        Reading a book in Europe or America in a coffee shop is the norm. Everyone and their grandmother does it. Reading a book in a coffee shop here is not, it implies that you have no friends. That is dumb. There is an overabundance of junk food chains and four bookshops. How is that a fair balance?

        Why is it only Kuwaiti females in public schools that read? Kudos to them for doing that. They’re awesome. I went to a private school where unfortunately no one read a book.

  2. X says:

    Hey Mark, how about you set up a crowd-funding campaign? Micro donations would be much more useful in raising the amount needed to save the store than waiting on someone to come in and pay all the amount.

    • Mark says:

      I thought about it but it wouldn’t work. micro donations work when you have a mass amount of people donating, kuwait is small so we don’t have a mass.

  3. Kuwait says:

    Thanks Mark for highlighting this. And dear Mr. Bashir Al Khatib, its very clear that this has been your baby for more than 5 decades! Well thought of and clearly well ahead of its times, your hard work does not require to end this way. I’m positive there is hope around the corner – wishing you all the best.

  4. Kufta Waffle says:

    As much as I’d hate to see the bookstore go, I think it’s inevitable that it’ll close down. Whether it’s because of a fallout between the owners, or plain-old bankruptcy, I don’t think the book store has much time left.

    The Kuwaity society does not read. They do read the tabloids that pass for newspapers here, and the web 2.0/social media thingamabobs, but anything serious is only for students (and even then), and madmen.

    One good thing that came out the tablet fad is that people can now read in public without being judged, people would just assume you’re checking out instagram.

    Just my 2 fils

  5. ZML says:

    Mark lets crowd fund

  6. The Kuwait Bookshops Co. says:

    Thank you so much, Mark, for your beautiful post, and for sharing our history with Kuwait.
    Avid readers do exist in Kuwait. There has always been, and will always be, a great demand for books in Kuwait. Bankruptcy and running out of business has not been our issue. It is unfortunately, due to personal differences between the two partners on the one hand. On the other hand, there have been changes in the Kuwaiti law which state that a non-Kuwait can no longer be a partner in the bookselling/publishing business in Kuwait.

    Thank you again for your support. We hope we can find a way to save our beloved bookshop!

    • Adam says:

      So it isn’t just a matter of finances to my understanding. You must be looking into partnering with someone else, namely a Kuwaiti for continuity. am I right ?

      • The Kuwait Bookshops Co. says:

        No, it’s not a matter of finances. The two partners can no longer work together due to personal reasons, as well as the new law stipulating that non-Kuwaitis can no longer be partners in such businesses – my grandfather.

        As a Kuwaiti and as the founder’s granddaughter, I don’t want my grandfather’s legacy to die out, which is why we’re trying to find a way to save the bookshop. Partnering up with someone new would be the perfect scenario. If not, we’re unfortunately facing an auction in December. This means that over 50 years of history, bookselling and book publishing, invasion threats and destruction, and everything else in between would have gone to waste.

        • KEITH WELLS says:

          Hi,
          This is Keith Wells. I have just come across your comment and I would like to offer my moral support to the campaign to save The Kuwait Bookshops. I have a lot of affection and respect for your grandfather, Bashir, as does my wife, Suzi. He helped both of us to publish books in English about Kuwait. Without his encouragement this would not have happened. Please pass on our best wishes to Bashir and good luck with the campaign.

  7. Intlxpatr says:

    Great post, Mark.

    “non-Kuwait can no longer be a partner in the bookselling/publishing business in Kuwait.” Wow.

    Wonder how Jarir is doing?

  8. Shahad Al Khatrash says:

    Hello, it is great that you have written an article about the Kuwait Bookstore. I believe it truly deserves to raise awareness about it. This bookstore has seen us grow up since we could first read, and we have grown accustomed to its workers, its rusty shelves, and the overall environment. It could just need some restoration and update to technology to bring it back to glory. I hope they resolve their administrable issues because we are indeed in need of a thriving bookstore.

  9. May says:

    I’ve been to muthana branch with my husband searching for specific book.. When we asked the guys there their reply was very cold “we don’t have the book, go check it out in Jarir…we are closing”. There were like 5 of us customers and was told the same answer… I don’t know if they don’t have the book or they don’t wanna work anymore coz of the closure or they are marketing jarir…

    But at the end it is heart breaking that it is closing down..

  10. Bongo says:

    I count 4 book shops in Kuwait, am I incorrect?

    Jarir in Hawally (Tunis Street)
    Better Books in Salmiya (Oman Street)
    Q8 Books in Salmiya (Marina Mall)
    Kuwait Bookshops (can someone tell me where it is located?)

  11. SuperAlesson says:

    It is sad to see a considered part of Kuwait heritage to go just like that. It should be preserved as most of you wanted to see it stay. But the owner is obviously running out of option to maintain the store amid internal squabbles. That is what usually happens when the company is owned by several investors. It either go up or sink.
    :-(

  12. Ahmed says:

    Aw man, its sad to see such an icon go away :( Last time I was there was about 2011(I think)and is is true they stopped selling magazines there? :(

  13. Chris says:

    :( I use to spend so much of time in that shop as a child!

  14. Mazinkaiser says:

    Meh, I couldn’t care less if it’s gone. Although it was pretty much my favorite place to go to when I was a kid, in the last three years every visit ended me up with disappointment. I’d usually pick up a couple of magazines for my trouble (provided they weren’t ruined by some government employee who’s job is apparently to scribble all over anything that resembles cleavage with a black marker), but even the magazines disappeared from the shelves a few months ago.

    There’s pretty much no reason for me to visit that place ever again. Any books I want to read, I just order them off of Amazon. I do miss visiting a huge bookstore to discover new books (used to go that a lot while I was studying in the US), but there is simply no demand for foreign books in this country (if there was, we’d see many more bookstores like that one in Dubai open up in here).

    Even though it’s sad to see it gone, let’s face it, the place has been terrible for the last three years. Its closing down will have pretty much zero impact on our lives.

    • The Kuwait Bookshops Co. says:

      We appreciate your feedback on the current state of the bookshop.

      Unfortunately, due to being in court for the past 4 years, we have been unable (legally), to order any new stock.

      This has resulted in us only having our current stock on display, which has been around for over 4 years now (at best)!

      If we do manage to save the bookshop from closing down, things will be completely different!

      Thank you for being a customer throughout the years.

  15. Keith Escobar says:

    Being a book lover, I felt sad that this store will be closing up just because of a law or personal difference between partners. The first book/novel I bought when I first came to Kuwait was from here and I found this shop very interesting coz the variety of reading materials in English were wide enough for an Arabic Book Shop. Hope a good samaritan will come along the way not only to save an old book shop but a heritage.

  16. Ahmed says:

    Hi Mark,
    Can U please provide me with an arabic translation for this article, a lot of pepole at work need to know the issue to react with it.
    Thanks

  17. Jacob says:

    It is indeed very unfortunate to see such a large bookstore on the verge of shutting shop. With a total population of around 3.5 million people in Kuwait (expats included), and I am assuming there are at least 100,000 who can communicate in English well enough to read, it would be only fair to say that there should be more bookstores in Kuwait. If there aren’t, then, there is something amiss here. On the contrary, we only have ones closing down for one reason or the other. At this rate, there will be none left in the next decade or two.
    It certainly is worth reflecting on why there are so few bookstores in Kuwait as compared to the ever increasing number of food outlets.

    I have spent many hours in Kuwait Bookshop over the last 25 years and it sure will be a sad day in the history of Kuwait to see the shutters come down on this store. Can only say a prayer and hope that someone out there with deep pockets will come forward to save it.

  18. Ali Sleeq says:

    Too bad; I work across from it and I go every once in a while to buy some music magazines but recently it’s been so empty… even English magazines seem to be out.

  19. What a shame to hear this beloved bookshop is on the brink of existence.

    So many good memories…..the nostalgia is kicking in…………

  20. Saad Ali says:

    I will admit I have never been to this bookstore, although I may have passed thousands of times.
    so some of the things I am going to mention may already be in place, but anyways here is in my opinion

    How to Save a Bookstore

    1. Setup an Event and Invite Everybody
    2. Invite Newspaper and Blogs to do the media coverage
    3. Try to setup an Auction to sell if you got old books.
    4. Share the Photographic history to raise awarness
    5. Let someone from NA involved as a revolt against the electronic print
    6. Contact Bank to study the feasibility.
    7. Ask Mr. Bashir to tell his story on a public platform
    8. Try to find out if
    9. Embrace the change, Sell Amazon e-readers, setup an internet cafe and study groups.
    10. Open a library, Cafe inside, with wifi access, where people can read
    11. Setup a bookreading club
    12. Social Campaign,
    13. Create a dedicate website as a platform to spread the message(I can do this for free, as I am into webhosting/blogging).

  21. AWS says:

    I went to the kuwait bookshop and they told me they are moving to hawally. It seems to be the end of what was consider knowledge.


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