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.
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.
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.
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!