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350 vendors displaced

Closure of the Ocho Rios Craft Market begins to hurt; half said to be over 60

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, March 26, 2020

THE abrupt closure of the Ocho Rios Craft Market in St Ann has left about 350 vendors and their families in limbo as the Government presses ahead with measures to rein in the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) that has crippled health systems and economies globally.

Reports are that it has been just about a week since the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) ordered the facility shut, with word that it would have been reopened yesterday, but when the Jamaica Observer visited the property the gates remained padlocked — a move marketing manager of the craft market Dennis Gordon disagrees with.

In an interview with the Observer yesterday in the once-busy resort town, now devoid of tourists, Gordon lamented the plight of vendors, whom he said have been left reeling from the closure.

“They have no work; nothing to do. They have to stay home and there's nobody here to talk to us; we don't see anybody come and say nothing. They [were] supposed to open it today (yesterday) and there was nobody in sight to tell us when to come back, because they gave us notice for today (yesterday) to open it,” Gordon said, mentioning that scores of vendors had turned up earlier to resume business but were met by locked gates.

The Government last week announced set times for market operations, restricting opening hours to between 6:00 am and 2:00 pm. The move, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said, is in an attempt to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

It forms part of a broader response to the pandemic which has forced countries to shut borders, restricting international travel, and effectively stifling tourism.

But Gordon maintained that there is still a market for the craft products.

“From 'bout two days aback we don't see no tourist, but we get business sometimes, mostly from returning residents. So there [are] a lot of returning residents who really support us and look out for us in the business, but now we have to stay home. But what I have to ask is this: When you stay home and don't have anything to eat or when you buy the food at the supermarket and it run out what you going to do? We need somebody to talk to us to find out how we're going to survive [now] that the market has been closed down,” Gordon said.

He raised particular concerns about elderly vendors whose livelihood now hangs in the balance.

“I have a problem with what is going on with the elder people. Half of the people who sell in the market are 60, 65 and over and they have to stay home; they can't come out, so we are worried about how they will survive. How will they get food? Nobody come here to talk to us or say something to us. We know that they are not going to be able to keep up. We know that they probably can survive for a week or two [but after that] who is going to be there for them? Who is going to be there to help them? These are the people who are the foundation of this craft market,” Gordon lamented, adding that vendors are all registered and licensed to sell.

“We don't hear nothing from the MP (Member of Parliament), or the councillor. I even see the mayor and him don't come 'cross come ask us what is going on or what happen and we are very close. We have a bond with him, but nobody come and talk to us. So we don't know when we're going to open back or who to speak to. We only see it on TV that they're going to give some incentive to the craft traders, which we not sure of, because they have been always promising us but we more than need the help, especially for the elders who lock up in the house and can't come out. This is their livelihood for years,” he stressed.