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Better days coming

Downtown Kingston craft vendor hurting from COVID-19 fallout has high hopes for future

BY ARTHUR HALL
Editor-at-large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, May 22, 2020

For almost 50 years Riley Maragh has operated his craft shop across from the Kingston Craft Market on Harbour Street in the capital city's downtown business district and he has seen good and bad times.

This year, the novel coronavirus has brought a level of devastation to his business and those of his neighbours, the likes of which Maragh says he has seen before, but not often.

The craft market is now shuttered and Maragh is trying to survive with little or no customers and almost zero income.

But the businessman, who sells authentic Jamaican craft items plus “a little liquor and juice”, is not unduly worried as he is confident that after COVID-19 things will get better.

“We are hoping to see the betterment to come. I have not thought about the worst part of it yet. I always look forward for things to get better,” said Maragh, who has operated Ocean Craft store since 1969.

“With my experience I know that better days are coming. What I do now is, instead of using a loaf of bread, I use half or I cut the slices thinner,” he said.

“We will still make it because what else can we do? We have to hold on and wait for the better days to come. As soon as the cruise ships start coming in, and we have flights in and out, then we will see the difference here.

“Last year we did well and the business went on, but because of the virus the business is down. We have a close connection with the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) and I am confident that we will see better days,” added Maragh as he applauded the UDC for its decision to waive the rent for vendors operating in its craft markets for the next three months.

On Wednesday, the UDC announced that the licensees at all its craft markets will not be required to pay shop rental fees for April, May, and June 2020.

According to the UDC, the almost 700 registered traders at Kingston Craft Market, Ocho Rios, Dunn's River, and Pineapple craft markets in St Ann; Success Craft Market in St James; and Rutland Point Craft Market in Hanover were given written notification of the rent wavier this week.

The UDC said its board and management took the decision in recognition of the challenges faced by craft traders since the closure of national borders to incoming passenger traffic to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus and, by extension, a significant downturn in the local tourism industry.

The corporation added that it anticipates that this measure will provide additional support and complement the Government's social initiatives such as the COVID-19 Allocation of Resources for Employees (CARE) Programme.

“We recognise that the steep reduction in visitor traffic may have had major impact on craft traders. The UDC intends for this three-month waiver to assist with alleviating some of the challenges being faced by the traders and support them in preparing for reopening,” said UDC General Manager Heather Pinnock.

“We are all in this together, and it is in great part through our collective diligence and cooperation that Jamaica will be able to quickly get back on track,” Pinnock added.

All UDC-managed craft markets and attractions were closed on March 18 in keeping with Government guidelines to stem the spread of the virus.

Operations have also been scaled back at UDC's head office and subsidiaries, except Runaway Bay Water Company and Ocho Rios Commercial Centre, both of which continue to provide, and support, essential services to parts of St Ann and St Catherine.

The UDC said its team is in the process of moving to the recovery phase of operations in preparation for the June 1 lifting of the current work-from-home restrictions.