A man refreshes with Coca-Cola beside an old Coca-Cola kiosk (Lagos, November 1977).

A man refreshes with Coca-Cola beside the old Coca-Cola Kiosk (Lagos, November 1977).

For most Nigerians who grew up in the 1960s through the early 1980s – a period many still describe as the country’s golden era – the Coca-Cola Kiosk was more than a commercial stall. Many fond memories were built around it; and, till today, it evokes nostalgia for this group.

Like the brand itself, the Coca-Cola kiosk was iconic and ubiquitous. It stood out on many streets in gleaming white color with the Spencerian script logo and dynamic ribbon painted against a bright red square. The brand slogan evolved through the years, and the last ones built in the early 1980s had “Here’s the Real Thing!”

In those days when it was not yet fashionable for wives to take up paid employment outside the home, a Coca-Cola kiosk placed in front of her house enabled a woman to simultaneously engage in retail trade while performing her socially recognized role as mother and homemaker. This, among other factors, explains why women dominate the Coca-Cola distribution and retail business in Nigeria to this day.

The Coca-Cola kiosks played another role, unwittingly. Apart from selling Coca-Cola, Fanta and Sprite, kiosk owners also sold provisions, making it a popular neighborhood retail stall and an extension of the home pantry. The customers were mostly young girls – daughters or house helps – on errands. With the strict social norms of those days, the errands to a Coca-Cola kiosk was for many of those girls about the only opportunity to (in today’s parlance) "hang out," however briefly.

Boys Scouts refresh at a Coca-Cola kiosk during the Nigeria Golden Jamboree of the Boys Scouts (Lagos, January 1965).

Boys Scouts refresh at a Coca-Cola Kiosk during the Nigeria Golden Jamboree of the Boys Scouts (Lagos, January 1965).

Naturally, this clientele profile attracted another kind in the same way that butterflies are drawn to flowers. Because then, there were not many places that “eligible” girls could be seen unaccompanied, the Coca-Cola kiosks became discreet fishing ponds for young boys and men in search of love. But direct engagement was taboo. Hence, the resort to coded gestures and love letters or poems tactfully sent and received. Or spurned!

In some cases, the love notes were sent through proxies with grievous consequences for the Romeo and his Juliet, if the note fell into wrong hands as it sometimes did. Indeed, many romantic relationships of varied outcomes as well as many marriages were hatched and nurtured around the Coca-Cola kiosks.

Unfortunately, from the mid-1980s, various policies prohibiting or restricting the placement of trading stalls became disruptive for the Coca-Cola kiosks and led to the gradual decline of this memorable icon.

The new Coca-Cola Kiosks
The new Coca-Cola kiosks.
Like all true icons, however, the Coca-Cola kiosks made a strong comeback in 2013 under the Lagos Iconic Retail Kiosks Program, a Coca-Cola 5by20 initiative in partnership with the Lagos State Ministry of Women Affairs & Poverty Alleviation. The new kiosk, while structurally similar to the old one, comes in red color with strong consumer messaging.

Recognizing the historic role played by Coca-Cola kiosks as a platform for women economic empowerment, the Lagos State Government is keen to leverage the kiosks to mitigate the impact of its urban renewal policy, which has displaced thousands of traders and artisans, mostly women, and worsened the high unemployment and poverty rates.

The Coca-Cola Iconic Retail Kiosks Program will boost our outlets and street presence, contribute to our 5by20 goals, and strengthen our relationship with the government. This year, 300 women will receive the kiosks, and more will benefit subsequently.

Times have changed drastically since the old era, with mobile phones and social media serving as new platforms of romantic fishing for both the young and the not-so-young. It remains to be seen whether the new Coca-Cola kiosks can displace these usurpers as the preferred meeting point for this digitized generation of love fishers.