Western Jamaica businesses want longer SOE hours

BY MARK CUMMINGS &
ANTHONY LEWIS
Sunday Observer reporters
editorial@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, May 05, 2019

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LUCEA, Hanover — Business operators across Hanover and Westmoreland towns, while welcoming the imposition of the state of public emergency (SOE), are calling for a relaxation of the operating hours for business, arguing that the measure is negatively impacting sales.

“It's (SOE) good for the parish, but we have a problem with the closing down time,” said Levi Dixon, operator of Tap A Top, a well-established cook shop in Lucea.

“During the day time you don't make much business, because my customers mostly come out to buy food at nights. They are mostly hotel workers, so when they leave work on the night shift, which is usually about 10:00 pm, they would stop by, so I am missing those sales because I have to close much earlier than usual,” he stated.

Prior to the SOE, Dixon said his closing time was 2:00 am. Now, he closes at 8:00 pm.

He added that during the daytime, his business suffers because of a lack of parking space at his establishment, which is located on the usually busy main road leading into the Lucea square.

Dixon told the Jamaica Observer that since the state of emergency was imposed last Tuesday, he had to 'lay off' more than 50 per cent of his staff, due to declining sales.

“Since two days ago, I had to send home six of my 10 members of staff and the working hours of those who are still there have been cut. Right now, my revenue has declined by more than 50 per cent. It can't work, it's the worse time now,” Dixon said on Friday.

Dixon, who has been operating at the present location for more than 30 years, is suggesting that the time for closure of business like his under the SOE should be extended to at least 11:00 pm.

He argued too that crime and violence in the town of Lucea were almost non-existent.

Lucea bar operator, Shaunett Graham, also believes that the opening hours should be extended.

“Well, I close at about 11:00 pm, but it [SOE] still affects me, because the customers not coming out like first. Most of them usually come out late to drink,” she said, adding that she has seen a decline of about 30 per cent in sales since the measure was imposed.

A gas station operator, who did not want to be named, is also dissatisfied with the prescribed opening hours for businesses such as his.

He, too, pointed to a decline in sales.

“I usually open very late, and apart from selling gas, a lot of people would come inside the convenience store at the gas station and make various purchases, especially after the supermarkets in the area are closed. Now, I am not getting that sort of business,” he bemoaned.

Last Tuesday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness declared a SOE for Hanover, Westmoreland and St James. It is slated to last for 14 days.

It, however, can be extended up to a further three month by a two-third majority of both Houses of Parliament.

In declaring the SOEs, Holness noted that since the start of the year, the parish of Westmoreland has recorded 29 murders, St James 27 and Hanover 18.

Under the SOE, businesses such as supermarkets, cook shops and grocery shops are permitted to open until 8:00 pm, while petrol stations are allowed to open until 11:00 pm and businesses operating under a tavern licence up to 10:00 pm

Managing director of Royal Pharmacy Ltd located in Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland, Carol Muschette, said the SOE so far has not had any negative impact on her business.

“My staff members haven't reported that they have been having any problems. So, it has been a positive,” said Muschette, as she welcomed the security measures.

“We close about nine o'clock and if you notice in the schedule, pharmacies can actually go up to 10:00 pm. Our staff members have on their uniforms, so if they have to be asked where they are coming from in the nights, at least they have proof that they work at a pharmacy,” said Muschette.

She added that the experience with the security forces when stopped on the roads is pleasant.

“I think the security forces are very, very polite. They have stopped me and they are very polite. I am really impressed. That's our experience. So, they are very pleasant, at least the ones I have encountered,” she told the Sunday Observer, adding that “actually I am pleasantly surprised, because you hear the negative things, but we really haven't encountered that”.

“The crime has reached a level now that it [SOE] was necessary. It started to become frightening, because I honestly couldn't believe this was happening to us in Westmoreland. So, I am particularly pleased with it and welcome it,” added the justice of the peace.

A service station operator in the town of Savanna-la-Mar, who asked not to be identified, noted that while they are not affected by the closing time given, there has been a fall-off in the sale of gas since the imposition of the SOE.

“The closing time doesn't affect us here because of the hours that they have set for service stations. However, the fact that they have put a curfew in place has discouraged people from staying out late at nights, and this has caused a fall in the sale of the gas. So, the evening shift has seen a fall. Normally, people would go to the nightclubs, bars … and the taxis are off the road earlier too, because of the curfew,” the service station operator explained.

He added, however, that due to a series of criminal activities in the parish, some of which “hits close to home,” the SOE is welcomed by the business community.

“We have lost a lot of people that we have known personally. Several of our customers have been murdered, and we are certainly grateful for the Government's new plan and hope that they will be able to recover as many of the illegal guns as they are able to,” stated the operator, as he welcomed the increase in security personnel on the ground.

“We certainly hope that after the 14 days if there is need to extend the state of emergency, they could look at a little more room in terms of the closing time. You don't want to restrict a business in trying to get to a criminal. The state of emergency gives you the power of search and seize without warrant, so hopefully they will be able to use those extended powers without having to curtail the business community itself which is important to the economy,” the operator argued.


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