ABU DHABI // When the Marina Mall's long-delayed "Snoworld" ice rink finally opened last week, it spelt a thaw in business at the surrounding retailers. On Friday, the mall had a record 80,000 visitors, which Mukhalad al Asadi, the operations manager, attributed to the opening the previous Monday of the skating rink, following months of tests, delays and lost shopping revenue.
"Traffic was huge, it was really increasing in this area," Mr al Asadi said. "If you wanted to stand and watch your kids, we were advising parents to go up and see because you cannot find a place to stand." Meanwhile, some store managers and employees in the area said it was only in the past week that customers had begun to discover their shops and cafes, cloistered in the back of the building. "Some customers did not know there was a Charles & Keith here until five days ago," said Regina Portin, a saleswoman at the shop, which sells shoes and accessories.
"They're saying, 'Oh, when did this one open?' Then I told them, 'Actually, we opened in September 2007'." Samer Shannat, the supervisor of Gentleman Farmer menswear next door, had a similar experience. "Customers are saying to us that this is the first time they see this shop," he said. "I hope [the skating rink] will bring more business because this area is weak." Although the store was launched in April last year, Mr Shannat said few shoppers realised it existed 15 months on.
Business was still slow on weekdays, with only one or two patrons wandering in each day. "Sometimes we see zero," he said. Marifor Rovero, the manager of Kekos children's boutique, hoped the rink would draw fresh buyers, and blamed the Snoworld delays for losing potential customers over the course of more than a year. "Right now we're getting some people who come in and they're telling us they didn't know about this place; when did this place open?" Ms Rovero said.
"More people are seeing us. We saw some kids were so excited about the skating area." Like many of the Snoworld shops, Kekos opened in September 2007 to capitalise on what was to have been the building's centrepiece - an indoor ski slope and skating rink. The facilities were originally expected to open in December last year, according to retailers. Yesterday Mr al Asadi could still not confirm when the ski hill would open.
"It is already constructed," he said. "We will continue. We hope by next year." Shop owners doubted the hill would be operational any time soon, speculating on a host of possible technical problems ranging from faulty glass walls to a possible ventilation leak that caused the snow to melt. In the meantime, at least, nearby cafes are already benefiting from the skating rink, which is open from 10am to 10pm.
Marwan Kattan, the owner of the Cinnamon City cafe next to the rink, said that although it was still too early to gauge whether business had improved dramatically, he was optimistic. "All we need is to get these people to try us once, come enjoy excellent food, try our coffee while watching their kids skating, and we'll see something really good," he said. Over at the Cafe de la Paix, Paul and Karen Drury, from Britain, watched their daughter Emilia skate while they enjoyed a tea and mineral water.
"She was quite excited to see a skating rink in a mall," said Mrs Drury. "She's seven now, but she has been skating for about a year and loves it." The physical benefit for children aside, "it's also nice because the kids get bored when we take them shopping and this way we keep them happy", said Mrs Drury. "I've got my eye on a bag upstairs, so I'll probably end up going to buy it while she's skating."
The still-closed ski hill, however, would be a more attractive option for the couple's nine-year-old son Henry, who much prefers ski racing to skating. "Do you know when that skiing area will ever open?" Mrs Drury asked. firstname.lastname@example.org