ABU DHABI // Workers in the capital's 1,300 corner groceries say their futures are up in the air as they face a deadline to modernise or shut down by the end of the year.
The Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA) announced in May last year that all grocery owners in the city must renovate their shops.
Last month they opened an information centre to answer questions about the process and distributed booklets and a DVD to the shops, recommending contractors and timing for renovations.
But with 10 months left, Noor Rastegar and his father have not decided what to do with their shop.
"In a month or so, maybe," said Mr Rastegar, 31, from Iran.
His father opened Arif Foodstuff in 1996. Renovating the ageing space near the corner of Hamdan Street and Airport Road could cost between Dh200,000 and Dh300,000, so closing might make more sense, he said.
"We may go to Oman, maybe," said Mr Rastegar, whose family has lived in the UAE since the 1960s. "It's very easy to open up a business in Oman."
Officials say the renovations will bring the city's independent groceries in line with international standards, with safer food storage, less clutter and more customer protection.
All shops that meet the requirements will be renamed "Baqala", Arabic for grocery.
"I think they understand exactly what we want now," said Mohammed Al Reyaysa, the director of communications and community service at the ADFCA.
"And now they are in a position to make the decision - if they are going ahead to change, or whatever decision they would like to make."
But many shop managers are worried about the costs, estimated at between Dh3,000 and Dh4,000 a square metre.
"How can we earn the money which we spend for this?" said Mustafa Ghulam, the purchasing manager for Al Ain Supermarket in Al Markaziyah.
"How many years will we need to work to recover that? It's totally unfair."
Others are delaying the inevitable.
"We are still not decided," said Ahmed Mustafa, 42, from India, the owner of Corner Grocery in Khalidiya. "Maybe we will close."
The National spoke to workers at six grocery stores this week. Four said they might close instead of renovating and only one had a concrete plan.
Abdulla Valia Peediakkal, the manager of Golden Misbah Grocery, said he had an appointment with a contractor who would visit his store and appraise the job on March 15.
Mr Valia Peediakkal estimated that renovating the Khalidiya shop would cost about Dh120,000.
"I don't have the money now," said Mr Valia Peediakkal, 42, from India. "I will be seeing what I can get, maybe a loan."
But workers at New Star Grocery in Markaziyah West said they would not make the changes and did not know what they would do next year.
"Maybe I will die tomorrow," joked Abdul Rahman Andu, 60, from India.
The Hamdan Street branch of Al Ain Supermarket will probably also close, said Mr Ghulam, 50, from Pakistan.
He estimated that renovating the shop would cost Dh300,000 to Dh400,000. Yearly rent is about Dh200,000.
"You know, the profit of a grocery is like 10 per cent …" Mr Ghulam said. "There are fixed prices from the Ministry of Economy."
Mr Al Reyaysa said the renovations would build consumer trust, benefiting business owners in the long run.
"We studied all the possibilities in the beginning when we studied the standards," he said.
"We know that many of the people will continue and we know also there's a possibility of other people who will be saying, 'We are not able to continue with Baqala.'"
The ADFCA will not renew the licences of groceries that do not comply.
"We would like these business owners to be part of the future of Abu Dhabi 2030 and that's why we want them to work hard, and with our help, to stay in the business ..." Mr Al Reyaysa said.
"Also, we are sending a clear message to the consumer that your health and food safety, we are not going to hesitate to protect it."
The plan will change the landscape of the city, Mr Valia Peediakkal said. "Maybe you don't know but groceries are very important for Abu Dhabi culture," he said.