Losing our grocery is like losing family

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More than 1,000 neighbourhood grocery stores – or “dukhan” – around Abu Dhabi were given an ultimatum by the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority to either implement expensive renovations by January 1, 2013, or clear up and move out.

It's unclear exactly how many chose the second option, but since most are owned by Asian expatriates of modest means who are unlikely to be able to afford the renovations, I expect we'll be left with significantly fewer of these much-loved stores in the new year.

Some people see the new regulations as a positive move – arguing that they will bring more sanitary conditions. But to me, having facilities such as automatic sliding doors, cameras and top-notch shelves seems out of place in a dukhan.

What makes a dukhan so great – so cozy – is that they provide the shopper with quick and easy access to any goods they so wish – be it bread, milk, soda, chocolate or whatever. We, the consumers, have become used to such a system.

If I wake up one morning craving a slice of buttered toast, only to find out I don’t have any bread, calling the grocery store and having them deliver a loaf in less than 10 minutes is a one of the luxuries that come with the old system – and most countries don’t have that.

I spend hours in the kitchen, coming up with new chocolate-filled desserts and throwing dinner parties, so I know how easy it is to forget items when you’re out shopping.

Our local dukhan has made my life easier by delivering whatever it is that I need urgently. Granted, I sometimes feel bad for the poor delivery man who has to deal with me days on end, but I usually end up baking him something special in return for his trouble.

As a child, I remember walking to our local grocery store, with no more than two or three dirhams to buy ice cream or a carton of laban.

I remember getting 10 dirhams from my grandfather and excitedly running towards the store to buy potato chips, ice cream and juice.

But that is something the next generation of children will not experience. They will not feel the excitement that we once felt, and that truly saddens me.

To me and my family, who have lived surrounded by these groceries for more than 20 years, it is heartbreaking to see them shut down. The workers have become like members of our family, the relationship between us is not just about getting a service, it is more personal than that.

These workers have seen us grow up, and we have seen them get married and have babies, we have spent years getting to know each one of them, seeing them in the mornings before going to work or school, meeting them while we stroll in the neighbourhood and they deliver their goods, we have become like one giant extended family.

What will happen to these workers? Well, some will move to other emirates and open up a new grocery store there, as they still need to make money. Sadly, others will go back to their own countries.

Either way, we will be losing members of our families who have impacted us greatly.

Update: Groceries are back on the menu!