Small Abu Dhabi shops set to fold

Shops that have operated from small premises for decades have been given a year to comply with new space regulations but many owners say they will have to close.

March 22, 2012 (Abu Dhabi) Mohammed Ali works at the Eissa Al Khameeri Dress and Ironing Shop in Abu Dhabi. New municipality rules may force the store to close because of the size of the store March 22, 2012.  (Sammy Dallal / The National)

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ABU DHABI // Mohammed Ali has worked in the laundry business for 25 years. He may not be doing so for much longer.

Mr Ali's shop in Al Wahda is a crowded 10 square metres - and that, municipality officials say, is too small.

Laundries must be at least 30 sq metres for ironing or washing and 40 sq metres for both. under regulations announced last year by the public health department and being implemented after a year's grace.

Mr Ali is the manager of Eissa Al Khameri Dress and Ironing Shop, its 10 sq metres packed wall to wall with hanging clothes and piles of dirty laundry, and a gap large enough for only a small ironing table. "We have what we have," he says. "How can they take it away? I don't know what I am going to do."

Khalifa Al Romaithi, director of public health at the municipality, said many building owners had responded to high rents a decade ago by partitioning business properties into smaller units.

"These small shops are not healthy or safe," he said. "Now, we are correcting that practice.

"We just want a shop to be big enough for people to come in and big enough for workers to work safely."

After shops were advised of the new space regulations last year, they were given a year from the date of their business licence renewal to comply.

The new rules apply to various businesses. Curtain shops that manufacture on site must be at least 50 sq metres, tyre repair and furniture shops must be 80 sq metres, and ladies' beauty centres must be 75 sq metres.

Paul Traynor, the owner of Mazoon Curtain and Upholstery, a design and manufacturing business, was told his 38 sq metre shop was too small, but he was still not completely familiar with the new regulations.

"When I went down to meet municipality officials I asked for a rule book and they said it wasn't ready yet," said Mr Traynor, a Briton who has operated his business near Airport Road and 11th Street for three years.

"They said, 'change it or get out'."

Mr Traynor plans to expand his business so a forced move may be convenient. "But if the rents treble then I won't be competitive any more," he said.

Mudasar Riaz, a laundry worker at Zubaidah Laundry on Airport Road, did not agree with the new regulations although his shop space of 52 sq metres was approved.

"It is hard for the businesses that do not have a choice but to move," he said. "They cannot afford the high rents. It's too expensive."

Municipality officials said the one-year buffer meant shop owners could find the best prices for their businesses.

Small spaces that are vacated can be replaced with businesses without space requirements, such as mobile phone shops and jewellers.

Businesses will not be able to renew their licences without a municipal inspection confirming the size of the space.