By Makeida Antonio
In the face of growing public concern over two recent demolitions of business places by the Development Control Authority (DCA) – and who might be next – several vendors have shared their trepidation about their possible removal from the city streets.
During a Facebook live video on January 15, four young men lamented the destruction of their small Ital shop in Parham by the DCA. Then two days ago, the body ripped apart a small structure near the National School Bus depot at the East Bus Station where the Natural Livity Ital restaurant still operates.
Deputy Town and Country Planner Clement Antonio recently hinted at plans to tidy up Market Street, triggering anxiety among some as to how this might affect street vendors who line the busy road.
Yesterday, Observer spoke to several vendors who ply their trade on lower Market Street, where some of them said they have been doing business for as long as 20 years.
Upon approaching one vegetable stall, Pat Cameron said that her daughter is the main operator of the small vending business and indicated that the family has been feeling the impact of low sales as a result of the pandemic.
“Business is slow right now since the pandemic. People hardly have money to buy produce,” she said.
Cameron further explained that her family would be negatively affected if her daughter’s small produce stall were to be removed from Market Street.
Sharing similar sentiments was another vendor who did not wish to be named, but said she has been vending on Market Street since the early 2000s when the Daily Observer was still a print newspaper.
The woman, who sells soft drinks and personal care items, does not have any alternative locations in mind and remains concerned about reaching customers.
“A lot of people don’t have money or jobs. You sit down all day and make only $10, if anything at all. People are only buying things that they need right now. There’s nowhere to go; customers are where the traffic is,” she said.
Another produce vendor, Anthony Nicholas, said that he normally operates on the weekends and yesterday was the second Thursday that he has been out on the street in a very long time.
He believes that the power rests in the hands of the DCA to maintain the law surrounding business operations and various structures attached to street vendors plying their trade.
“They’ve got to do what they got to do,” he remarked.
Nicholas also told Observer that if he were to relocate, he would simply join the other farmers in the nearby Public Market which has been customary for Saturday mornings culturally. Some of the produce, he said, is currently selling quickly, such as avocados, oranges, plantains, yams and pumpkins.
While still walking in a southerly direction, Observer media encountered three young men operating from a tent with various produce on a table, who voiced their collective opinion about the image the DCA would project if the removal of small businesses continues.
“It’s not going to look good for DCA to stop the young people’s business. People might start to go to jail then,” one of the young entrepreneurs said.
During the interview, at around 4pm, they sold a bag of tomatoes which they claimed was their first sale of the day. Other produce on their table included onions, peppers, plantains and avocados.
Observer met another veteran vendor, Samantha Mercier, who has been selling men’s and women’s clothing and accessories for the last 15 years. She said that even though she is paying rent for a space upstairs the vegetable market, she prefers to take the risk on the street for several reasons.
One major concern is the lack of customers who go into the Public Market due to the presence of vagrants. Additionally, she highlighted the lack of security and overall aesthetics of the environment which may be keeping potential customers away.
Mercier wondered if more owners of small businesses would become increasingly frustrated and begin developing mental challenges as a result of the slow pace of business activity caused by the pandemic.
“We are right opposite the market. All over the world, vendors are outside of the market having their farmers’ market. The old people come and sell their produce from their backyard garden; we are in the Caribbean, everybody has got to live,” she stated.
Since the pandemic, Mercier said that her fastest selling product is masks which are bought by tourists walking around the city.
Observer followed up with the DCA for comment but was unsuccessful up until press time. St John’s Development Corporation (SJDC), which is the body responsible for vendors in the city, advised Observer that more information will be provided when it becomes available.