Mushrif Mall opens in Abu Dhabi

The opening of a new mall may not raise eyebrows in most countries, but in Abu Dhabi, it is a major event.
Mushrif Mall, on Airport Road, is home to many familiar shops, but not all are open yet.
Mushrif Mall, on Airport Road, is home to many familiar shops, but not all are open yet.

The opening of a new mall may not raise eyebrows in most countries, but in Abu Dhabi, it is a major event.

Tonight, Mushrif Mall will officially unveil its much-awaited new Lulu Hypermarket, but curious shoppers have been arriving at the 56,000-square metre mall days early to scope out its potential. After spending an afternoon with these punters, an interesting picture emerges of the Abu Dhabi shopper: as well as the brand names and cut-price sales, a mall is viewed as a family sanctuary, and for some, even an indoor gym.

Upon entering Mushrif Mall's main gates, you are not assaulted by the usual assortment of cheesy dance tracks or Rick Astley. Instead, it's the tranquil sounds of a waterfall emanating from the entry hall's water feature.

The first floor inside resembles an unfinished movie set. The smell of fresh paint is heavy in the air, and purple and blue balloons are bobbing everywhere, wishing all a Ramadan Mubarak. A Mugg and Bean, not yet open, resembles an abandoned living room, with plush chairs wrapped in plastic. And at the very far end of the mall, the much anticipated 15,000-square metre Lulu Hypermarket has its roller doors shut; blurry figures can be seen behind putting final touches on the shelves.

In the middle of the mall's main floor is a large Ramadan exhibition. More thoughtful than most, it features 30 picture stands demonstrating the different phases of the moon during each day of the month.

Muhammad is admiring the image of Day 27. He was not that hard to spot; he was the only person within 50 metres. A man with children, Muhammad was on a reconnaissance mission to see if the mall was as child-friendly as advertised. "Yes, I am very happy with what I saw," he beams.

But it wasn't the indoor aquatic park - Sparky's Oceanic - that is responsible for his seal of approval. Instead, it's down to a missing feature, which caused scorn from some of the mall's critics.

"It's very good that there are no cinemas here because then it brings out all the troublemakers," Muhammad says. "Most people in Abu Dhabi come to the shopping malls as a family for a good time out. But whenever a mall has a cinema, you get young people who come and make noise."

Muhammad says his only reason for venturing to malls was purely to accompany his wife and kids.

Now that he has ascertained the kids would be satisfied, how about his wife? "Well, there is a Lulu's here," he smiles.

Sitting on a bench is a solitary man rubbing his feet. His name is Mustafa and he is a "driver for the Madam". He explains the Madam wanted to inspect the mall and see whether it was up to scratch.

A man long used to her lengthy shopping escapades, Mustafa elects to wait for his boss at the entrance rather than in the car.

"It is relaxing here," he says. "I like the benches. For drivers waiting here, it is very good."

However, his enthusiasm slips a notch when asked whether Madam would bring him back for another visit.

"Yes," he sighs wearily. "She loves shopping. We will be here again."

The second floor offered more promise, with plenty of fashion stores boarded up with "opening soon" signs. And other than Style Studio, which has more employees than customers, the only retailer exhibiting any signs of life is the Dunkin' Donuts tucked away in a corner.

More action is found on the third floor, however, with shoppers visiting the quirky Japanese novelty store, Daiso. There, beside a row of fake Samurai Swords and miniature China dolls, is the American expat Lara. She views herself as a shopaholic and she came to Al Mushrif searching for her next conquest.

"It does have potential," she says. "I look for a variety of labels, not just the Zaras and the H&Ms. The more different the brands, the better it is for me." The food court, branded the largest in the city, is justifiably closed due to the holy month. However, among the shuttered McDonald's, KFC, and Chef Laziz Restaurant, a small, stout man pounds the floor in trainers.

"You have to keep up with me if you want to talk," says Faisal, as sweat drips down his forehead.

The Food Court seems an odd choice to add in a mall-walk route, but Faisal says the third floor, with its spacious set-up and clearly defined corners, is an ideal place to indulge in one hour of power-walking.

As well as the health benefits, Faisal describes the advantages of his weekly mall-walking regime in a manner befitting his job as a "businessman involved in office appliances".

"Number one, I people-watch," he says, almost at a pant now. "Number two, I observe the businesses, and number three, I look at the customers and then I make an opinion."

And the verdict?

"This mall is similar to other Abu Dhabi malls," he spits. "There is no philosophy here. They just build a place here and shove stores anywhere!"

We pass a line of shoe boutiques.

"Look at this! Shoe store here, a shoe store there and another shoe store here. It is as if these people think we never wore shoes before!" he says. "There is no thought to the set-up, no variety. This is what people want when they come to a shop, some variety."

With the mall expected to fill up with the opening of Lulu tonight, Faisal's days of walking freely in the mall may be numbered. "Oh, I will come back" he says. "I enjoy coming to malls to have coffee.

Published: August 10, 2011 04:00 AM


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