BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment email@example.com
RESIDENTS of Dalvey and surrounding neighbourhoods in St Thomas are decrying the move by the police to close bars and shops where alcohol is sold by 9:00 pm, saying it is seriously hurting the livelihood of entire communities.
The move is in line with the Spirit Licence Act, but the bar operators and residents alike are charging that it is a double standard since the law is openly flouted in other parts of the parish and the wider island. The residents say it is even harder to accept that their doors must be closed at 9:00 pm in an area where crime is at the lowest.
"This is a low-income area, and although it is the law, when ah man ah come off work at 10:00 pm dem want a place to stop and buy a little thing to eat, but everywhere haffi lock up by 9:00," shop and bar operator Evrol Nicholson complained.
He told the Jamaica Observer North East that many bar operators also sell other products to supplement their income and the early closure of their businesses not only hurts their pockets, but that of the regular customers who may need to credit items.
A police source told the Observer North East that while the law is not enforced in other parts of the island, the Police High Command has been issuing regular bulletins on its communications network reminding officers about the importance of enforcement.
"Yes, I agree that it is not being enforced everywhere, but it is the law, so it is just that the Golden Grove police [which has responsibility for the area] is following the instructions given," he said.
But given the low employment in this eastern parish, which has already suffered an economic setback with the decline of sugar cane production, residents say such laws should be reviewed as shops and bars are a common feature in rural town squares and are major sources for income for many in these rural parts.
In Duckenfield, where hundreds of residents lost their jobs when the sugar and banana sectors took a hit, shopkeepers and bartenders now sit idle, hoping for the occasional customer.
Their main customers, according to one shopkeeper who asked not to be named, are the workers at the nearby Seprod Sugar Factory who may stop to purchase a few items when leaving work on the 10:00 pm shift during crop time which runs from December to June.
"This is a farming community and people don't buy until night because dem deh a bush all day and just as dem woulda ready to come buy something you see the police car flashing dem light and you haffi close up immediately," she told the Jamaica Observer North East.
Prior to the enforcement of the law, the female operator said she would easily sell $7,000 each fortnight as persons who credit during the two-week period would stop to pay their bills and have a drink.
"On Friday, when is pay day during crop time, we woulda buy little more goods to try and sell, but now we can't do that," she said.
The operators said enforcement of the law only started last June, when they were informed by the police that not only must holders of village retail licences be closed by 9:00pm, but they cannot open on Sundays. This has resulted in not only the early closure of bars, but of shops, as well as that of the only establishment with a Tavern Licence.
"The shops not staying open after we (bars) close because dem no want nobody come hold dem up," said Nicholson, adding that there has been an increase in break-ins, apparently because the square becomes a ghost town by 9:00 pm.
The operators say while they would be willing to apply for the Tavern Licence, which would allow them to stay open until 11:00 pm, they just cannot meet the criteria for approval. According to the Act, a tavern means a house in which spirits are sold for consumption on the premises only, and in which adequate accommodation is available for guests.
But the operators say it is next to impossible for them to construct a three bedroom, two bathroom dwelling to accommodate persons who might get drunk, as required under the law.
"Look at these little board place ah Duckenfield. Where yuh see we have fi mek three bedroom, two bathroom beside we bar when we can't even afford fi mek that fi weself ah we yard?" said one operator.
The small business operators allege that Tavern Licences are shifting targets, the requirements for which change every year.
Over in Dalvey, said to be one of the biggest districts in Jamaica, the residents and operators told a similar story as they say the early closure is having an adverse effect on their livelihood.
"We already seeing a decline in sales because sometimes all me sell is some bag juice, and is only because when ah man ah buy a food from the cookshop him will patronise you and buy a drink," said Tamara Russell.
The residents say a lot of unemployed persons look forward to making an income from the round-robin entertainment events, but even this has been restricted as the midnight cut-off time is being strictly enforced.
"Bars, shops, round-robins are all income earners because of the limited employment here," said resident Odel Felix.
Leroy Miller said he used to make enough money to send his children to school from the soup he sells at these events.
"Now me can't sell nutten to pay the rent, because no event not keeping," he said.
The Dalvey operators say they, too, are unable to meet the criteria for a Tavern Licence because of their limited means and reduced earning ability.
"We nuh have three bedroom house ah we yard so how me must have three bedroom house in order fi get licence?" asked Ann-Marie Walker.
However, despite the low employment rate, the residents maintain that the division has the lowest crime rate as domestic violence and ganja-related offences are the two major crimes with which the Golden Grove police has to contend.