By Carlena Knight
Discussions on the way forward are underway with vendors and the St John’s Development Corporation (SJDC), as the country looks to reopen the tourism sector.
Among the topics discussed was the reopening date and the avenues that vendors can take in order to follow health guidelines, all of which have not been decided upon.
But, according to Ambrozine Sebastian, a vendor at Heritage Quay, the topic of social distancing may be a bit more difficult for them to adhere to due to the confined space in which they operate.
“We discussed the problems we were having with the sewage system, bathrooms, the mall itself and the way that they were thinking going forward with social distancing and the space we have. Considering the space, we have in the mall it would be difficult, so they were asking for solutions. I suggested rotations which didn’t go well with some of the vendors [but] two vendors were chosen to represent us and inform us because we do not have an association on whatever the decision SJDC makes.”
She said that despite the fact that a new system may be put in place a number of vendors are eager to get back to work as most have been living from ‘hand to mouth’ since the shutdown of the industry, despite the waiving of three months’ rent (March, April, May) by the SJDC.
“Well, most of them are eagerly waiting for the reopening and hope for a positive change financially. Most vendors can hardly meet their rent and it’s just a hand to mouth situation. People don’t make that much money so they can put away but some people do other things that they can but that doesn’t work for everyone.”
According to Sebastian, the financial decline for vendors began long before the Covid-19 pandemic this season as St Maarten continues to take customers away.
“I think it was a go slow for some people. A lot of people were cutting back [because] most people weren’t shopping. One of the reasons is because cruise ships go to St Maarten. It’s cheaper and actually some of the tourists tell us that on the cruise ships they advise them to shop in St Maarten because it’s cheaper, rather than in Antigua which is more expensive and competitive.”
Sebastian, who has applied her trade for over 20 years, is however hoping that measures will be put in place to help vendors deal with that issue. One way she suggested was the continued offering of duty-free concessions. According to Sebastian, it is offered to vendors when first plying their trade, but is not a continuous incentive.
She is also calling for the rebirth of a local vendors’ association.