mobile phone kiosk

A shop assistant at a mobile phone kiosk at the C3 Mall in San Fernando gets ready to sanitise some phones on Friday last.

—Photo: trevor watson

IN ORDER to survive the current economic landscape, we must diversify, said president of the San Fernando Business Association Daphne Bartlett.

All businesses have been affected by the pandemic, and as such, it cannot be business as usual, she said.

According to Bartlett, if a retailer sold clothes before the pandemic, expanding their range of items to include face masks and hand sanitisers could mean the difference between getting a little income coming in rather than no income at all.

Bartlett said as one of the few pharmacies on lower High Street in San Fernando, the dismal turnout so close to the weekend is appalling, she told Express Business on Friday.

She said, “You would think here would be very busy because I’m servicing such a large area, but I’ve only had two customers in the past hour. Imagine this is a Friday. We will get slow trek of customers in the morning, and by 1pm we can close up because things are dead after that.”

Bartlett says Central and South have yet to recover from the closure of Petrotrin, which resulted in a loss of business of between 40 to 50 per cent.

“We now have Covid and it’s like a double whammy for us. We are really struggling in the Southern part of this country, and we need the Government to do better.”

At C3 Mall in San Fernando on Thursday, some stores flowed with customers and even had lines of people waiting to get in, while other stores remained without any foot traffic.

Since the reopening of the malls on June 1, some business owners say there is a level of uncertainty moving forward as they navigate through the challenging economic landscape.

While some retailers reported a general increase in activity this month, they all agreed, it is nowhere close to what it was before Covid-19.

Facility manager at Central Athletics Gym, Collette Haynes said, “On mornings it is a bit slow, but we are slowly seeing things pick back up through the course of the day. There have been fewer customers now than there were before the Covid lockdown, but this was expected. For all gyms, I think, one of their major concerns would be the number of persons coming to the gym because that’s how we make our money. We are hanging in there and complying with all health regulations, and I can only hope that we can all get past this and get back to normal.”

Manager of ALDO C3 Store, Shalini Seecharan said, “We opened on June 2, not June 1. We took the day to cleanse and sanitise everything to get the store ready for customers. Luckily for us, our loyal customers have stayed true to the brand, which has not affected our sales too much. As soon as we opened, we had a 30 per cent discount on all items storewide. We have had so far a consistent flow of customers not only at ALDO, but also at our other stores such as Sketchers, Bath and Body, and Aeropostale. People are not liming around they are buying what they need and quickly leaving the mall.”

According to Seecharan, there is a heightened level of cleanliness and sanitisation at all of their stores because the safety of customers and staff is of utmost importance.

She said, “We sell clothing, shoes, and other items, so people want to touch and try things on. This can be a little tricky, especially now. We are a little OCD at the store when it comes to cleanliness, but we ensure everything is cleaned and sanitised after each customer. In some cases, we also use gloves. My major concern is not sales or stock, we will all rebound from that eventually. I don’t want a relapse and a spike in Covid cases and we are forced to close our stores again. I think this would be detrimental for all business owners.”

Manager of Optometrist Today Sophia Khan echoed similar sentiments, and said, they are very strict with all health regulations to ensure the safety of customers and staff.

She said, since the reopening, they have had mixed results when it comes to the flow of customers.

Each day is different. We handle things as it comes up. We also have a safety team on standby. I think we must come together as business people and encourage each other during this difficult period, Khan said.

As people donned their face masks and moved around C3 Center, the biggest crowds were at the food court, pharmacy, and cellular stores.

Supervisor at Bhagan’s Vasan Sahatoo said, “Foot traffic has definitely increased, but it is less than what we usually get around this time.”

Sahatoo said their biggest challenge was ensuring customers complied with the health regulations such as the wearing of masks, and hand sanitisation.

Store manager of Funatics, Ricardo Andrews said, “Security is an issue moving forward in this new normal. Since everyone is wearing a mask, you really can’t tell who is who. I think the Government needs to sit with all relevant stakeholders and discuss what needs to be done to assist small business owners. It is tough right now for everyone. While some business owners may have got their rents reduced by either five or 10 per cent, the majority had to pay the full amount during stay-at-home measures. Maybe the government can waive rental fees for small business owners for one more month until things pick back up.”

While some stores struggled to get a sale, others were busy unboxing and putting items on the shelves.

Senior customer service representative at Bmobile C3, Valene Bajnath, said the influx of customers tends to fluctuate.

She says while things are slowly picking back up, she would like to see more signage at the mall regarding the Covid -19 health regulations.

“People are becoming too complacent. We still have to tell some customers they must wear a mask and sanitiser before entering. I think it would be good to have a few information officers from the Ministry of Health at the mall to reinforce this,” Bajnath said.

Manager at RadioShack C3, Samantha Paul said, “There are fewer customers now. People are either concerned about their safety or just don’t have the money to spend as they did before. A lot of people’s priorities have changed. Some have lost their jobs, so they have less money to spend. Our biggest concern is being able to maintain profitability because business is very slow.”

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