Vendors returned

HOPING FOR A SALE: Vendors returned to High Street, San Fernando, this week following the Government lifting of Covid-19 pandemic restrictions on Monday. There were many vendors but few shoppers. —Photo: TREVOR WATSON

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced as much as 15 per cent of retail businesses in San Fernando to permanently shut down.

And some small business owners are being forced to make tough decision about reducing staff and adjusting opening hours.

President of the Greater San Fernando Area Chamber of Commerce (GSFCC), Kiran Singh, said 85 per cent of businesses along High Street, San Fernando reopened on Monday, following the announcement by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley last week.

Singh said some retailers were still in the process of restocking and retooling to resume operations.

He said, however, that approximately 10 to 15 per cent of small businesses were unable to reopen due to a lack of capital.

In an interview with the Express this week, Singh said, “Members of the business community would have, of course, wanted a greater lead time to prepare for the resumption of trade. What we have observed is that about 85 per cent of businesses have been able to reopen. Some establishments are still in the process of restocking and retooling and enabling their employees to report for duty. Unfortunately, approximately ten to 15 per cent of small businesses were unable to reopen due to a lack of capital.”

Singh said the GSFCC welcomed the news to allow retailers to resume economic activity after an almost two-month shut down, adding that “the resumption of retail economic activity will gradually increase much needed consumerism and employment”.

Singh said although the food sector was allowed to reopen a week earlier, many establishments along High Street remained closed. “This was mainly due to the fact that their customer base mainly comprises employees and consumers who populate the downtown area. The subsector of the retail food industry will now breathe a sigh of relief as they can to some level of normalcy,” he said.

Singh said the decision to reopen retail business came at a critical time for operators as it was usually around this time of year goods were ordered for the Christmas season. And Christmas, he said, was the time when business owners can recoup losses incurred throughout the year.

He said the owners of barber shops, hair salons and spas in the city were now preparing to reopen soon.

Singh said business owners along High Street were advised to follow protocols as outlined by the Minister of Health to facilitate their reintroduction into the economy.

“The chamber has emphasised to its membership the importance of adhering to all safety protocols as advised by the Ministry of Health to preserve the health and well being of both themselves and the customers,” he said.

Penal/Debe crippled

The Covid-19 pandemic, however, has crippled economic activity in the Penal/Debe community, says president of the Penal/Debe Chamber Rampersad Sieuraj.

Sieuraj said retailers were severely affected by the closure of business for almost two months and many have been forced to close their establishments or downgrade operations.

This, he said, has resulted in unemployment and lowered standard of living in the communities. Sieuraj said the re-opening of businesses on Monday did not reflect an increase in business activity in the town centres. He said there was no flock of shoppers to businesses and almost zero pedestrian traffic on the streets.

He said, “Penal/Debe has been very negatively impacted by Covid-19. We welcome the phased reopening of businesses but this has not reflected in greater business activity. One needs to recognise that Covid-19 only accentuated the grim economic activity in Penal/Debe after the closure of Petrotrin , being a fenceline community.”

Following discussions with business owners, Sieuraj said they have not benefited from relief grants, rent adjustments and banking facilities activated during the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said the business owners who have had no income in months were now faced with huge re-opening costs.

“Some landlords offered minimal help, some employers offered minimal wage relief but since these businesses depended on month to month sales, savings have dried up and are finding it difficult to restart. Also with little disposable income, high unemployment and no Government support, Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) would have many challenges in the new normal,” he said.

The Penal/Debe districts, he said, was predominately SMEs and sole proprietors who employed people from the outlying villages.

“And with no business activities for the past months has meant that there are businesses now unable to restart, permanently closed and the ones that are reopened are seeing negligible business, given the fact that people are unemployed and have no disposable incomes,” he said.

Sieuraj said many people who were laid off during the pandemic opted to set up vegetable stalls along the main roads to earn an income.

However, he advised business owners to adhere to safety protocols outlined by the Ministry of Health, including wearing masks.

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