Many people living in Sheikh Jarrah will be on very familiar terms with Mr Automatic, or the family of Mr Automatic’s that make up the popular Automatic Grocery shop. It is something of a miracle in how they manage to stock so many products in a modestly sized shop. Fancy some French cheese? Italian salami? a bottle of whisky? – no bother, Mr Automatic has got you covered!
What you might not know, is that this family-run grocery shop has stood in its prominent location on the roundabout of Shimon Hatzadik Street for over 100 years.
The Automatic Grocery was established in 1909 by Mohammad Khawashki. It has stayed in the same family ever since, being passed down first to Mohammad’s son Yahya and then on to the current owner Nidal. Nidal currently runs the shop with his two sons, Yahya and Yaser.
The shop was named Automatic Grocery since they were the first in Jerusalem to do deliveries. Yahya explains that ‘at that time, we were doing deliveries on bicycles and we had a couple of people working for us. We are always unique in the sense of the products we get and the service we offer’.
Over the years, the shop has adapted as the neighbourhood has changed. Yahya says that ‘from the 1960’s, the neighbourhood became a popular location for Diplomatic missions and Consulates. Therefore, our main clientele is the international community, where the clients are often changing’.
Walking into the shop today, one of the first things you’ll notice is the impressive alcohol selection which says it all really about what the international community are looking for in their local convenience store! There is also a wide array of European and American products you would struggle to get elsewhere. Yahya explains that this takes a lot of work. Sometimes things sell well in the shop, but the supplier stops importing it and they have to look for alternatives. He says, ‘we have our main suppliers of course, but we are constantly looking for other suppliers in order to keep our customers happy’.
There has only been one period over the years when the shop has been closed and that was during the second intifada in 2000. Yahya tells me that ‘my father, decided to move to the United States for a few years for us (his kids) to get a better education and live a better life. This is a time when there was many strikes and schools were closing’. Following the 9/11 events in 2001 it became much harder to apply for residency in the US and the family returned in 2003. Yahya was 13 at that point and started working alongside his father in the shop.
Despite being a popular and seemingly thriving hub in the community, keeping the business going has not been without its challenges. Yahya says that ‘for the past four years, since the Trump administration came in place, we have seen a dramatic change in business, many of our clients have left their posts due to the lack of funding’. He goes on to say ‘we are trying very hard to bring in more clients but it’s a bit of a challenge especially with the types of products we sell, the local community is not the target. So, we count on the support of the international community to keep this business running’.
Over the past few months during the corona lockdown, the shop has literally been a lifeline for many people! They were quick to establish home deliveries which can be ordered through whatsapp and stayed open throughout the crisis, providing essential (and less essential but important – chocolate and wine!) supplies throughout.
Yahya says ‘the past 2 months have been very difficult in many different aspects. We are still trying to adapt to this challenging situation. We are very stressed in the sense of keeping ourselves and customers safe and getting the products that our customers are used to. In these challenging times, many of our products are harder to get than ever’.
There is also much to celebrate though, as Yahya and his wife recently welcomed a new daughter. I am sure such a hardworking and customer-focussed family will make sure that the shop is still there for the next generation in their family.
So please shop local and support this pillar of the community! Automatic Grocery is open daily (until 6pm during current restrictions) and home deliveries can be arranged by texting 054-215-7510.