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Chittary Mohammed, left, and Sani Thoombil, will merge their stores to meet new Abu Dhabi grocery regulations.
Chittary Mohammed, left, and Sani Thoombil, will merge their stores to meet new Abu Dhabi grocery regulations.

Grocery rivals unite to save their stores and meet new Abu Dhabi regulations

Neighbours whose shops were too small to meet minimum size rules are tearing down their dividing wall and teaming up to stay open.

ABU DHABI // For 20 years, Hamza Mohiyadheen Grocery and Mohd Abbas and A Rahman Grocery have been next-door neighbours and competitors for customers in the Muroor Road area. Now the rivals plan to join forces and knock down the wall dividing them.

The unlikely alliance, which would have been unthinkable a few months ago, is the owners’ answer to the shop safety and hygiene regulations that came into force at the beginning of the year.

Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (FCA) rules state that stores must have a floor space exceeding 35 square metres, according to the shopowners. Separately, both shops – near the junction of Muroor and 25th Street – were several square metres smaller than the minimum.

“I thought of doing the renovations but learnt my shop was too small so I couldn’t do it,” said Sani Thoombil, owner of Hamza Mohiyadheen, which was set up by his father 30 years ago.

“We both [Mr Thoombil and fellow Indian Chittary Mohammed, who owns Mohd Abbas and A Rahman] had the same problem because of the size of the shops, so we discussed it to see if there was a possibility we could do it together. We are friendly with each other.”

The pair are waiting to hear if they have secured a bank loan for the work, which is expected to cost Dh150,000. They aim to carry out the refurbishment within the next two months.

The project is a relief to both men, especially Mr Thoombil, who relies on the income to support his family back home in Kerala. He has three children, including a four-month-old baby.

“Of course I was scared when the new regulations came in,” he said. “If there’s no money, how can I not be scared?

“I was scared I may have had to close the business.”

The shopkeepers shut their stores on December 31 when the deadline for the new regulations arrived, but reopened 10 days later.

Since then they have been spreading word of their upcoming joint venture to customers.

“When we were closed they [the customers] were frustrated and now they are happy. Even the customers suggested that we merge the shops together,” said Mr Mohammed, who moved to Abu Dhabi 40 years ago and had a shop elsewhere in the city before moving to his current premises two decades ago.

“Before, customers were going to the supermarkets and some are too crowded and some are too far,” he added. “All of the groceries in this area closed.”

Mr Mohammed is thankful to have found a way to continue his livelihood.

“I am responsible for four other men working for me, including my son. If there is no shop, how will I provide for me and for them?”

Mr Thoombil added: “I had my own customers and he had his own customers,” but now they will benefit from a larger store with upgraded facilities, in accordance with FCA rules, which aim to improve the hygiene and appearance of shops.

The merger will be something of a swan song for 57-year-old Mr Mohammed, who will return to India once it is complete and leave his son as co-owner with Mr Thoombil.

“I might come back to visit. I’m looking forward to seeing the two shops together. I want to check if the merger is good or not,” he said.

“I’m happy to help and I’m happy they are able to merge,” said his son, Rafeek Chittary Mohammed, 30.

The news was welcomed by customer Celeste Tulud, who lives above the shops.

“Without them, it is really hard on us,” said the 32-year-old restaurant supervisor. “When they shut, we went to the supermarket. Inside it was crowded and we had to wait a long time.

“I’m happy they are staying here. It’s accessible for us to buy anything in an emergency.”

ecleland@thenational.ae

aalkhoori@thenational.ae

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