Abu Dhabi: It’s officially named Zayed The First Street but to most residents in Abu Dhabi, the road has always been known as ‘Electra Street’, and it’s not hard to guess why.
For over three decades, the street has been home to a number of shops selling a dizzying array of electronic items packed with buyers and browsers, especially on weekends, as they seek the latest gadget or gizmos.
Adnan Ashraf, who runs his shop on the street, fondly compares its once bustling atmosphere to one of New York’s iconic streets.
“This road used to be like Times Square in New York, that’s how busy it used to get. It was like the whole city was dropping in to buy electronic appliances. Business was very good,” he said.
He moved his shop to Electra street in 1998. “Before that, we were already operating in the Old Souq for more than 10 years, so all in all we go back more than 30 years in the business.”
Though shopping malls and online shopping have snatched away many of the buyers who thronged the street through the 80s, 90s and 2000s, Ashraf is determined to keep his shop going despite the decrease in footfall.
“Day by day, it’s getting tougher. Things are very different now for standalone shops compared to 20-30 years ago – we now have to deal with shopping malls, consumers who aren’t spending as much, and higher rents.” But none of these challenges can thwart his desire to continue being a part of the capital’s history.
“It’s important to keep tradition and history alive,” he said. “In places like the US and Europe, they keep city traditions alive and so must we. Electra Street is a very famous road in Abu Dhabi, it’s well known to many residents and visitors and has a long history associated with the stores that have lent the street its cache.
“I personally feel very happy when I think about how long my family has been running this shop in Abu Dhabi, and more specifically, on Electra Street. We have had a lot of good times and memories on this street, and were able to make a good life for ourselves,” added Ashraf.
Mozamil Momin, a Bangladeshi salesperson who has been working for more than 15 years on Electra Street, said the road still has a certain magnetism.
“Yes, things are different now, and people are taking their shopping elsewhere as there are so many different options for them to choose from – but many people still keep coming to Electra Street, we haven’t run out of customers. A lot of people know about Electra Street and that’s what brings them here.”
The shop he works in opened in 1988 and “so there is a long history here, and this is something many other new establishments in Abu Dhabi cannot talk of,” he added.
Despite the changing trends, he is confident that Electra Street and its shops will remain an enduring motif of Abu Dhabi’s heritage.
“Shopping on Electra Street is a different experience than going to a shopping mall, here it is more personalised, the customers know who we are and we know them and so there is trust,” he said.
“I also think that customers enjoy coming to a street like this and seeing so many electronic shops together in the same place.”
The collectivity has its own charm, he said, adding that this is what was absent in standalone outlets and malls.
Mohammad Ziaul, also from Bangladesh, has been managing an electronics store on Electra Street since 2006, a job he prefers to term as his passion.
“This shop opened in 2003 and I became the manager in 2006. There are not as many customers these days but I’m still happy to be here because electronic appliances is my area and I enjoy talking to my customers.”
He is confident that the allure of Electra Street will prevail no matter what tomorrow’s trends may dictate.
“Thirty years from now, we will still have Electra Street and all of its shops,” he said.