A cry for help

by Emmanuel Joseph

Mia Mottley speaking to the media today in the City while a natural juice vendor (right) and Cynthia Forde (behind) look on.

High rents and a significant drop in sales, are forcing some Swan Street stores to close their doors.

When a team from Barbados TODAY visited the area this afternoon where Opposition Leader Mia Mottley continued her “Rubbing Shoulders Programme” to work places, it was also discovered that street vendors were struggling to survive as well.

Owner of Genesis Touch, Sharon Small, related that business had been so rough over the past year, she had to send home some workers.

“Small business owners are asking for, not only a decrease in the rent, but also for money to be trickling down to the poor people, that we can have some money coming into our busines,” Small declared.

“[Because] from the time we open our businesses the rent goes on, the light goes on, the telephone goes on. And we find that the telephone people are getting their money, the light bill is getting their [paid], the renters are getting their money, but yet still we are going to be struggling trying to get a plane ticket, trying to get stock, and then when we come back, we are faced with duties from Customs,” added the business women.

“So we are asking for help in this area in Swan Street, that we can live also. Despite the hard economic times we have to survive… We need help, and we are asking for help today,” Small pleaded.

Entertainer and former shop owner Keann Walters talks about her woes.
Entertainer and former shop owner Keann Walters talks about her woes.

Owner of Twin Towers Fashion, Joyann Butcher, said while rent played a very important part in business, her greatest fear was the thought of having to close her store after investing her life’s savings in it.

“I believe also that when I reach where my dream is, because this has been a dream to be a business owner…, and when I saved all of my money, all of my life’s savings to accomplish this, then the thought that I would have to close down — it burns me,” Butcher said.

She also lamented that after the business was opened and they went to the Small Business Association and the credit unions and other financial institutions for capital, “the struggles that we have to go through to acquire the money, [and still] we don’t get the money”.

She also lamented the costs of running her business, pointing to an airline ticket costing as much as $2,200 to shop for stock, along with salaries and customs duties. “Where is the money coming from?” asked the small store owner.

She argued that there was no one persons like her could go to for assistance. Butcher said she was considering doing without things which were important to the business, such as the telephone. She noted that business phones were more expensive than residential, and suggested that the cost be reduced, especially for owners in Swan Street.

Keann Walters, who owns Celebrity Base Boutique, revealed that she had just shut down her store and was now selling on the streets.

“Now I had to close down my business about two weeks ago because I could not pay the rent anymore — a small space for $3,000,” Walters said. “We need answers and we need relief”.

Donnay Leach, who owns Sarah’s Boutique, reported having to lay off her staff because she could not afford to continue paying. She too, echoed the sentiments of her business colleagues in asking for assistance through rent reduction.

“She has a young baby and she was begging me to hold, but I cannot afford to pay her.”

She said her only relief was going to The Plantation every other Saturday to the flea market and selling her products at about half the price.

Fruit vendor Michelle Smith, who has two children, including a 15 year old girl, said she was barely making ends meet. Smith had been selling for 16 years, but had to give it up and go into a better paying job at the now defunct NCO offshore business at the Harbour Road.

Since its closure, she had to resort to selling on the streets again. She is calling on the authorities to give them a better accommodation on the streets to sell, since people were more inclined to buy while passing on the road, rather than going into a mall.

The Oppositon Leader, who had arranged these meetings with various workers, said she intended to continue rubbing shoulders with others across Barbados in order to bring their plight to the attention of the Government.

Today, she was accompanied by MPs Cynthia Forde, Trevor Prescod, Gline Clarke and Barbados Labour Party General Secretary, George Griffith. emmanueljoseph@barbadostoday.bb

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