x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Not all Abu Dhabi residents happy at city's development

Most business owners are relieved that the Salam Street redevelopment and Sheikh Zayed Tunnel are finally complete.

ABU DHABI // Olga Kachou does not think her manakeesh sales will ever recover from the havoc wreaked on her business by the construction of the Sheikh Zayed Tunnel.

She is one of many whose shops almost closed during the five-year redevelopment of Salam Street and the construction of the 4.2-kilometre tunnel that opened on December 5. Now, they wait for customers to return.

"The one who made the construction is not intelligent," said Ms Kachou, owner of Khaleej Bakeries and Pastries. "It's better but not like before construction was done. Our income was less than the limit, 75 per cent it was down. Our deliveries outside were OK. It covered costs."

Her daily sales dropped to just Dh3,000. Ms Kachou refused to close her bakery when tunnel construction began, even as other businesses shut their doors. Her neighbourhood is filled with empty shops.

Relocating was out of the question - oven and chimney installation could easily have exceeded Dh100,000.

Her bakery has been there for more than 20 years and has 45 employees.

"Some people here, they shifted or they closed," Ms Kachou said. "I could not because this is our life."

Since the road reopened, revenue is up to Dh10,000 and rising.

Other businesses on the street that thrived before the tunnel have not seen an increase in sales since the opening.

"I will tell you the truth," said Jennet Esperanza, manager of Tasha Chocolatier. "When they closed this, suddenly the shop became empty.

"Before we earned Dh10,000 a day. Now sometimes there are no customers. Now they forget. Our clients forget there is a Tasha here. They forgot their chocolate is here."

Business at the Indian Palace restaurant on Salam Street fell by 60 per cent during construction, even though increased at other Abu Dhabi branches. Revenue returned to pre-construction levels within a month of the road reopening this summer.

"At that time we were losing money but we knew that in future it was good for us, said Praveen Kizahakkedath, the manager. "We were suffering but we knew in future it would be the heart of the city."

This was of small consolation for other business owners.

"The future," said a Sheikh Zayed Road restaurant owner who did not want to be named. "It will get better in the future? In five years some people die and some people are born.

"Wallah, if you open even 100 tunnels it is not OK. Everything is expensive and all business is down. I mean,five years before it was much better."

It will not be the last of the city's growing pains. Businesses on Muroor Road are just starting to think of the financial burden that could follow metro construction in the next several years.

"It will be harmful," said Mohammed Firoz, supervisor of Bafte The Sleep Store on Muroor. "How can I save extra money? Because globally, business is very low."

But most Muroor business owners have bigger concerns than the metro.

Mr Firoz has been told that the municipality requires his furniture shop to expand or close to meet regulations.

Small grocers face closure in the face of expensive upgrades required by the municipality and the travel agents on Muroor and Hamdan struggle to keep their industry alive.

For these business, the metro construction is of little concern.

"If they close here on this road, it will be a big problem," said Pothiya Pattihllath, who runs Wonder Frame Glass Mirror framing shop and the Awashi Aquarium pet store next door. "Where will the cars and people come from, am I right? Where will the money from the rent come, am I right? After the metro comes it will be good, more people. If they don't close the whole thing at once it's no problem."

azacharias@thenational.ae