ABU DHABI // First they were open. Then they were closed. Now they're open again.
The saga of the capital's 1,300 small grocery shops took another bizarre twist yesterday when it emerged that many forced to close for failure to modernise under new food-safety rules had lifted the shutters a week later and were doing a brisk trade with happy returning customers.
Shop owners say Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, which originally imposed the December 31 deadline to comply with the new regulations, has given them permission to trade temporarily while they await approval to renovate their shops.
Ebrahim Kutty, from India, closed Deewan Supermarket just off Delma Street on December 31 and reopened on January 7.
"The shop is exactly the same. There are no changes yet," he said. "I don't know when I will get approval. Last week I went to the Food Control Authority and they said wait."
Mr Kutty expects the conversion to a new authority-approved baqala, Arabic for grocery, to cost more than Dh150,000. "When I get the approval we will be closing and then after the renovation we will reopen." He said there was "no problem" with the situation.
Among his delighted customers was Fadi Chehade, 26, a relationship manager from Lebanon.
"I normally shop here because I work in the same building," he said. "When it shut it was crazy. We had to go to the Lulu. Everyone was there and it was very, very busy. It was inconvenient.
"Everyone expected them to re-open without making any changes as people made a big fuss over it. But of course, the authorities will force them to renovate. I think some of them should renovate.
"Some of them are not organised and the prices are not on the products. It's hard for the person shopping."
Al Azaa Vegetable and Foodstuff Shop, near Muroor Road, also remained open and was doing a brisk trade.
"Next week maybe I will close for renovation," said the owner, Rasheed Mulakkal, from India. "I'm waiting for approval from the Food Control Authority to do the renovations. I'm very busy now because of all the shops that have closed."
He also expects the renovation work to cost him Dh150,000.
Suvarna Grocery, near Al Wahda Mall, also closed on December 31 and began trading again on January 7. Mohammed Valiath, a shop assistant from India, said the owner had been asked to reopen by the authority when he went to its office. No changes were required, he said, but it would be renovated within three months.
Near by, Al Ramadi Grocery has also been allowed to reopen until further notice.
"I'm not going to renovate until they tell me," said owner Siddique Kunaph, from India. "If they say renovate at any point, then I will decide what to do. I might leave or I might renovate.
"It's a small shop for me so I don't want to spend more money on it."
The Food Control Authority refused to comment, but its acting director of communications and community service, Ahmed Al Sharaf, has said the closure of non-compliant groceries would happen gradually.
"We will try our best to make sure that consumers will not find themselves all of a sudden without the services they are used to," he said.
The authority insisted groceries that closed on December 31 did so "on their own" and "it was very much possible for them to implement the new regulations and continue functioning".