Corner shop owner is one of growing band intent on upgrades to meet new hygiene standards imposed by the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority.
Grocer's inheritance goes into renovating Abu Dhabi store
ABU DHABI // Faced with having to close his grocery, Bashir Kallanad has just one option: to give up land in India he inherited from his father 20 years ago.
The money would allow him to renovate the store he has owned for three years, Al Thana Supermarket, to meet new hygiene standards imposed by the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA).
It is either that or close. His shop in Abu Dhabi's Tanker Mai area is one of many that have to be upgraded to meet the new rules.
Hundreds of outlets were closed by the ADFCA after failing to meet a January 1 deadline to make the changes, which cover refrigeration, shelving and decor.
Two months ago, The National surveyed Tanker Mai, and found the area almost bereft of food shops. Where there had been 30 groceries, by January there were just four.
Last month, the ADFCA relented, giving shops that registered for renovations by March 6 until the end of June to complete the work.
And although many have started work, others have been forced to close due to insufficient funds. When The National visited the area again this week, just six groceries and small supermarkets were open. There were signs of renovation at another six, meaning that by June, Tanker Mai may have 12 outlets - 40 per cent of what was there before.
"I will start renovations before June," said Mr Kallanad. "It should take a month and a half which is a very long time, and I will be out of business during that time."
Shops bigger than 200 square metres - such as Tanker Mai's Millennium Supermarket - are considered supermarkets and will not have to adopt the new regulations. But at 60sqm, Mr Kallanad's shop will.
The refurbishments will cost him about Dh120,000, and he expects to lose another Dh16,000 during the six weeks he is out of business.
"I don't have the money, so I will have to go to India and sell a few plots of land I inherited from my father," he said. "They've gone from generation to generation, so it's very sad but I have to do it." Each of his plots cost about a million rupees - almost Dh70,000.
"The Baqala system is better but there is too much money to be spent," he added. "I'm thankful I still have customers at the moment."
Malabar Grocery will finish renovations in a week. But it was closed for two months, costing it's owner Dh50,000. "I'm unhappy about the losses and a lot of customers are still going to Millennium Supermarket," said Ayoub TK, the manager. "Business is not going well but hopefully [it will be] better soon."
Others were not so lucky. "I'm selling my shop because renovations are too expensive," said Ibrahim, the owner of Mubaris Foodstuff.
But for the Millennium Supermarket, the sudden choking off of competition has been a boon. "We've been getting 50 per cent more customers in the last two months," said Harry Kandel, who works there. "People prefer big supermarkets because there are more options of better quality, and Baqala can also be more expensive than us."
Some residents disagreed. "Sometimes, we need drinks or something urgent and supermarkets are getting more and more packed," said Moad Ismail, a Jordanian shopper at Millennium. "Groceries in Abu Dhabi are famous, you just call them and they deliver - while supermarkets don't. So far, four groceries have closed around my building."
But there is hope with many groceries showing signs of renovation. Warsam Food Stuff will be open in two weeks while Green House Corner Fruits and Food Stuff should be ready in 25 days.
Others, such as Defence Supermarket, are planning to close temporarily to renovate while many were found closed indefinitely.
"We cannot force them to do something but, as a business, they know what is good for them," said Mohamed Jalal Al Rayssi, the authority's communications director. "We know this is the best for consumers and owners."
Shop owners rushed to register with the authority before the deadline last week, he said. "We have seen more people register in the past days of the registration and we will soon announce [the total number of shops]," he said.
"We have people asking us when to do it in Al Ain and the Western Region. They are looking forward to changes in their groceries and I am hopeful to see those changes by the end of June."