Living in the Dominican Republic – Colmados, more than a convenience store.

A colmado’s storefront in the region of Constanza.

Upon arriving in the Dominican Republic, you’re bound to encounter one recurring type of shop…a colmado.
 
What is a colmado? Well...it's a bit of everything.

A colmado is primarily a local convenience store. It sells staples: from rice and beans to toiletries, cigarettes and alcohol. People can call their local colmado for a delivery. Pretty convenient when you realize you need one more avocado in the middle of making guacamole — I might be speaking from experience…but colmados have much more to offer than on-demand groceries.

They play a central role within a community, often acting as the local canteen and social gathering space for people of all ages and walks of life to meet and socialize. It’s common to see a group of Dominicans intensely playing dominoes while sipping cold Presidentes at the local colmado during the day, and at night, some colmados turn into bars or even karaoke clubs. And when the music plays…you can hear it even 2 blocks away.

A colmado in La Altagracia: Seats are ready for domino players to gather.

Colmados are scattered all around the island, in great numbers. Let’s think about it. We often hear that coffee shops are everywhere in the United States, particularly in large cities. San Francisco, the city with the highest number of coffee shops per capita, has one shop for every 326 residents.
 
In comparison, my Dominican housemate says the ratio here is one colmado per 30 people. That’s a bit of an exaggeration – marketing experts indicate there are about 57,000 “official” colmados in the country. That’s one colmado for every 188 inhabitants. Living in Santo Domingo, I have 7 colmados within walking distance. But having explored the country a bit, I can confirm that colmados are everywhere, and in numbers. When I visited Mano Juan, a small fishing village located on Saona Island, I was amazed to count not one, nor 2, but at least 5 colmados. All of them on an island of no more than 500 residents. 

A well-stocked colmado and its proud owner in a small village next to Magua.

You’ll have noticed my use of “official” numbers. While working with Esperanza, one of Kiva’s Field Partners in the Dominican Republic, I met with a couple of borrowers who provide their neighborhood with most staples you can find at a convenience store, but their storefronts are located inside their homes.

Because colmados are central to life in the Dominican Republic, they are used for other purposes than shopping and socializing. People come here to buy mobile phone credit, pay electricity or water bills; they can also buy car insurance for a day, a week or a month. Thanks to colmados, Dominicans living in remote areas don’t have to travel to a city and go to the bank. A lawyer I met early on during my stay told me that the government and local organizations have started to look into this incredible network to roll out microcredit and a wider variety of financial services across the country.

Syliana, a Kiva borrower, proudly showing me her well-stocked shop in her house. It offers some of the staples you can find in an official colmado: rice, beans, sweets, bread, toiletries, refreshments etc.

As for my own experience with colmados…I first entered one 5 minutes before a heavy tropical storm kept me inside for a good half-hour. Carnival was sadly cancelled, but I enjoyed nice company, drinks and nibbles while playing pool. All in all, it was a lovely end to the weekend. I’ll probably be back — my pool game could do with some improvement!
  
Interested in the Dominican Republic? Support local Kiva borrowers in the country here!


About the author

Alice Robineau

Alice was born in France, where she grew up and studied for her MSc in International Business and Development. After an eight-month internship in the UK and a semester studying in Chile, she returned and settled for three years in Cambridge, UK. There, she worked for Camfed, an NGO supporting marginalised girls through education and empowering women to become leaders and change agents. Her role focused on financial and grant management, and she collaborated on a daily basis with national offices across Sub-Saharan Africa. Looking to expand her skills, Alice is extremely excited to discover new ways to address poverty alleviation through her work with Kiva. Passionate about international development, women's rights and social business, Alice wishes to combine her education and interests to find new ways to lever impact and promote sustainable development. In her spare time, Alice is a keen cook, yogi and always eager for a new adventure!