Eye on the Economy

As schools and businesses across the country were encouraged to shut their doors for 14 days to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, many small businesses and self-employed persons have begun to feel the brunt of social distancing.

This according to president of the Greater San Fernando Chamber of Commerce, Keiran Singh. Speaking to the Express on Friday, Singh stated that many of the self-employed and small businesses owners have been particularly affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

“Unfortunately, it has taken a vast toll on small businesses who may pay their employees daily as well as the self-employed. It has had a debilitating effect on those in this community in fact it has emptied the streets of San Fernando of pedestrian, consumer and vehicular traffic. The demand for the services provided by the self-employed has dropped and unfortunately the small man on the street will face it terribly,” he said.

To understand the extent of this, the Express spoke to several self-employed and small business owners on Friday. They claimed to have seen distinct reductions in their services over the course of the last few weeks.

Chelsea Hakim of Trinidad Hair Stylist, a small hair salon in Vistabella, told the Express that her business has been suffering from a complete depletion in clients for the past two weeks.

“I would have at least 20 to 30 clients on a monthly basis. Since the virus hit Trinidad and Tobago, I have not seen any of my usual clients for the month. Where before the business depended on social media to reach new clients, I haven’t gotten one DM, no one has reached out since to make an appointment,” she said.

Hakim, a single parent, said that this reduction in clients has left her in a very tough economic predicament.

“I have to pay rent for my business and right now I don’t think I’ll be able to and I don’t know what I should do. Things are honestly really tough right now. This is not my only job, but the other job is one in which I get paid based on commission. Right now, on both ends, there is no one coming in and so everything is at a halt,” said Hakim.

‘Govt neglecting small businesses’

According to Hakim, the small business community in the country has been neglected, with no advice or measures on how to deal with her circumstances being given on public platforms.

“I am hoping and praying anytime I turn on the news that I can hear something on what we small business owners should do right now. We don’t have any type of support the focus has been on big businesses. We would like to be seen, the way everyone else is seen. Something should be looked into to help us stay afloat in this time,” she said.

Her sentiment was shared by Crystal Maighoo, a nail technician and make-up artist based in Gasparillo, who said that since the onset of the virus her clients have diminished significantly. Where Maighoo would normally draw three clients a week, she now has one and sometime no clients per week.

“I do house calls and to reduce the spread of this virus the idea of close contact, which is the nature of my business has been discouraged. A lot of my clients are businesspersons as well and with places being closed people really don’t have anywhere to go,” she said.

Also a single parent, Maighoo said that her income has been able to keep her family fed and sheltered for the time being but this too has been difficult.

“I am trying to keep everything going and hold out hope, but you never know. It really is very, very hard in this time. We have kept everything down to bare necessities. Food and nothing else right now, just food,” she said.

Jodi Vincent of Cunupia is a 29-year-old make-up artist. She told the Express that since the COVID-19 cases have been announced, her business has suffered a 90 per cent reduction in clients. She has since been offering specials to encourage more business but is down to one client per week.

With her make-up business as a sole source of income, Vincent has closed her physical location to avoid having large numbers of people in one space. However, she said that despite being closed, she still must pay for rent.

“I have a son and my husband works for the Government. He has not been paid for some time, so my business was really helping us go along. Right now, everything is really hard we are just able to buy food,” she said.

The Express asked Singh what can be done to protect smaller businesses and the self-employed throughout this period. Singh indicated that the Chamber was currently lobbying for different outcomes.

“We appreciate the efforts by commercial banks to defer loan payments and credit card payments thus far. However, we are lobbying for the Government to extend the deadline for the first quarter of tax returns.”

“Additionally, we are asking Nedco (National Entrepreneurship Development Company Ltd), which is the State agency, for smaller enterprises across the country to soften interest rates for the self-employed and small businesses in this time. Financial assistance throughout this period will alleviate the economic turmoil in terms of rent and other necessities,” he said.

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