x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Save Abu Dhabi's quirky corner shops

Abu Dhabi's corner shops are about to get a shiny new upgrade. But is this for the better?

The corner shop near my apartment is so small only about three people fit inside. Usually I manage to knock something off the counter or one of the shelves with my handbag. Yet it's cheap and stocks an astonishing variety of drinks and snacks, considering its modest square footage.

I can't help but wonder what is going to become of it, considering the recent news that the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority is requiring the city's 1,300 such corner shops to standardise and modernise.

I love these corner stores, where you can buy toilet roll, canned meat, toy guns, key chains, combs and delicious fruit. I never thought I would say this, but I'd take these tightly packed shops over 7 Eleven any day. Even the inviting new Adnoc stations, with their functioning deep freezers and premium ice creams, their efficient tills over calculators and wooden drawers full of dirhams, cannot sway me.

It boggled my mind when I first moved here, how people would pull up outside these shops, honk and then idle in their cars while the staff ran out to take their "order". I've never been able to get used to someone following me around with one of those little green, yellow or red plastic bags. I was even more amazed when I realised I could phone up from home and order anything I wanted and get it delivered - provided I could get the person on the other end of the line to understand.

Whenever I called the shop near my first apartment, they would bring a little assortment of what they thought I might have been asking for. As a hilarious Canadian teacher I knew put it, "why yes I will have some chips". I always found "milk" the most challenging order, and funnily enough, the one I made most often. On many occasions I found myself in an absurd struggle to pronounce an impossible word. Twice, they turned up with a padlock.

I didn't want to leave that shop behind, I liked everything about it so much. And so, on my first visit to the shop by my new apartment, I knew everything would be OK when the proprietor handed me a sticker bearing a mobile number and said "deliver".

The days of waiting to buy Etisalat credit, staring at outrageous sweets and jostling for space with other customers, while the proprietor finishes his hawala call to goodness-knows-where, are numbered. Why progress, why? Like the white-and-gold (with a touch of green) taxis before them, in the coming years such shops will slowly disappear and be replaced with others that are shiny and new. I fear for the proprietors, who may not be able to afford the upgrades, and lament the loss of one of the city's great curiosities.