ABU DHABI // Grocery stores in Abu Dhabi will not be given more time to renovate premises to meet new hygiene and safety rules, the emirate's food authority has insisted.
But some shop owners tell a different story, saying they have been told they have an extra three months, from the end of December, to complete the work.
New regulations forced hundreds of shops to close when they came into force on January 1. Many shops shut permanently, but others started renovations before reopening under the new Baqala brand.
However, some have reopened with no apparent change. Deewan supermarket off Delma Street was back in business as soon as January 7. Its owner said it was "awaiting approval from the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority".
Others such as Al Azaa Vegetable and Foodstuff Shop, near Muroor Road, continued to trade until their renovations could start.
Mujeeb Rahman, the son of Defence Supermarket's owner on Mohamed Bin Khalifa Street, said the authority had given the shop until March. "They gave us a three-month extension from end of December because a lot of people were putting pressure on," he said. "There aren't many shops around, so people needed to have access to a few things."
After closing on December 31, Defence Supermarket reopened 10 days ago.
"They said I could only reopen if I plan to do my renovations," said Mr Rahman, whose family has owned the shop for the past 30 years. "It should cost me around Dh150,000."
He said he had not been provided with an exact date for the end of the extension.
Although the authority denied grocery stores had been given extensions to renovate, it said it would be "lenient".
"In the days following December 31, we saw huge acceptance of the change," said Mohamed Jalal Al Rayssi, the authority's communications director.
"There is no extension but we are lenient as of now. We are accepting registration requests for the time being and until further notice. Shops are still allowed to register."
The renovation project involves other government bodies, including the Department of Economic Development – Abu Dhabi to issue licences, and Abu Dhabi Municipality.
The number of shops that have closed remains unclear, said Mr Al Rayssi, "because many of the shops are temporarily closed for change and others, forever".
He said the project looked "promising" so far as residents seemed happy with the new changes.
"It might have been difficult at first because there were no shops [close to their home] but they understand the project and its objective," he added.
But many shoppers with no means of transport said they felt stranded, having to commute miles before reaching their closest supermarket. "People don't want to go to big shops for small things," said Mr Rahman. "They go to small grocery stores like ours."
For now, Mr Al Rayssi said he was confident all grocery stores in the emirate would make the change "very soon". He added: From our data, the change is happening everywhere."
In suburban areas of Abu Dhabi, such as Al Shamkha, Al Falah and Mussaffah, the authority is expecting shops to change "soon" and it plans to get the new larger supermarket chains ready in time.
"We have to see in the area what's available," said Mr Al Rayssi. "We would like to ease things for those changing."
And the new Baqalas will have to ensure they maintain high food-safety standards as inspectors from the authority will continually check them.
"This is not the end of the story, groceries have to maintain the change," he said.
Shops found breaking food safety regulations will be given a warning. After three warnings, they will face legal action.