ABU DHABI //Hassan Kunnath has operated his small corner shop in the Tourist Club area for more than 30 years. But after new regulations to standardise and modernise small groceries come into effect, he might have to close down.
"I have to study this," said Mr Kunnath, a 52-year-old Indian who has lived in Abu Dhabi for 35 years. "I want to think about this, because this is very expensive."
At an event hosted by the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority yesterday, hundreds of grocery owners and staff learnt about the new regulations, which will require all shops to update their facade, storage areas, price markers and hygiene facilities.
All adequately renovated shops will be branded 'Baqala'.
The regulations require shops to meet international retail standards while recognising "the valuable role that today's grocery stores have played in serving the capital's residents". They are meant to protect consumers and bring the small groceries in line with the emirate's Vision 2030 plan.
"This is the vision of Abu Dhabi in the near future," said Mohammed Al Reyaysa, the spokesman for the food authority. "This sector was not able to improve itself. We didn't see changes over a period of many years."
The move comes as part of the Government's efforts to curb widespread problems at the ubiquitous shops, including inadequate storage areas, inefficient stocking systems and improperly trained staff.
All Baqala stores will have a storage room, food safety and hygiene area, a security system and a computerised till.
Implementation of the regulations will begin at the capital's estimated 1,300 groceries by the end of the year, but the cost of the required changes will fall on the owners.
Ajit, a worker at Glory Grocery on Khalifa Street, said authorities told him it would cost about Dh4,000 per square metre to ensure the shop met the regulations.
"That is about Dh200,000. We cannot afford that," he said. "We can do a few changes, and even if we could afford to change over, we would suffer because we would lose all of our customers during the construction phase."
But officials said the upfront costs for the renovations would be cancelled out by the increase in customers after the changes were made.
"Everywhere you go, you'll see the Baqala sign and you'll trust and recognise it," Mr Al Reyaysa said. "You'll know they're using best practices."
Rashid VP, the owner of a store in Bani Yas, said he agreed with the Government's plan because current conditions were "pathetic", but he feared the changes would come at too high a cost.
"We need to make changes in a way not to harm current workers," he said. "There needs to be a reasonable and gradually implemented change."
Officials were quick to note that prices would not increase for consumers.
In May, a model Baqala store opened in Al Nahyan neighbourhood. The store supervisor, Noel Templo, said the 45-square-metre store, which serves about 150 people a day and offers free deliveries, is the preferred corner shop for residents.
"It's a big difference," Mr Templo said. "It's good to work here. It's clean, and there's no smell."
Mr Templo said the Baqala, also called X-Treme Grocery, offers more than a typical corner shop. Value-added services, including a coffee maker and a cash machine, are unique to the model store, and customers can buy sandwiches and flower bouquets at this "shop of the future".
A timeline for compliance with the regulations has not been announced. Officials have not said what penalties will be levied against owners who refuse to convert.
* With additional reporting by Zainab Mudallal