Regional

Registered Santa Cruz vendors, store operators hurting

BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large, South/Central Bureau myersg@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, December 20, 2013    

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SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — Veronica Coke was fast asleep at 4:30 am early Monday when her cellphone rang.

She picked up to hear the devastating news that thieves had broken into her shop at the clothes arcade just north (at the back) of the Santa Cruz market.

Daylight revealed the extent of the loss. Thieves, having ripped a hole through the back of her shop, had taken hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of clothes and shoes, including 30 pairs of the prized Clarks shoe brand.

The thieves also ransacked an adjacent shop, belonging to Oliver Brown, who lost large quantities of onions and Irish potatoes.

For Coke, who had just stocked up for Christmas, the break-in was like a hammer blow. But she said she received a "double blow" when mayor of Black River and chairman of the parish council, Everton Fisher confirmed reports that itinerant vendors will be free to sell on the streets of Santa Cruz, this Christmas.

Coke said the mayor explained to her that the decision had been taken because rehabilitation and construction work on designated vending areas in and around the Santa Cruz market were far from complete.

But that's no consolation for Coke and other registered clothes and shoe vendors who were relocated by the parish council to the area contemptuously referred to as "market back", some distance away from Main Street, after they lost everything in a huge fire in 2008.

Santa Cruz is used to vendors from all across Jamaica taking over the streets of at Christmastime. It's been a constant complaint down the years from registered vendors and store owners who say they lose business because of the street activity.

They say their situation this Christmas will be even worse since, in the past, the authorities at least stated an intention to keep the vendors off the streets, even if they did not fulfil their promise.

"I tell him (Fisher) that it is not fair to us the vendors... because with people on the streets selling nobody going to come down here to market back," Coke told the Jamaica Observer.

Store operators in the town are also crying foul.

"Every Christmas they (itinerant vendors) come here and block the whole area," said the operator of clothes store Klassy Collections, Bev Faulknor. "They undersell us (and they) block the people from coming into the store, they come here and they get all the business because they not paying anything; it's costing them nothing, but we (store owners) have to honour all our expenses," she said.

Andrea Wilson of Maxie Department Store had a similar complaint. "We can't compete with them," she said. The only good thing for stores was that there are a "few people who will not buy on the streets", said Wilson.

Business apart, Wilson argued that unregulated vending leaves the streets clogged and facilitates lawlessness. "We live in a country with huge problems getting people to obey the law, this only makes it worse," she said.

She believes the parish council should at least have made an attempt to have the itinerant vendors in a designated, properly regulated area for the holiday season.

"What they (parish council) are doing will only encourage lawlessness," she said.

When contacted by telephone, Fisher said the parish council had been left with no option but to allow "people to be on the streets selling their wares" this Christmas, since work on the vending areas were well behind schedule.

Part of the project is to relocate the vendors at the back of the market to a more advantageous area south (to the front of the market) adjacent to the area from which they were removed following the 2008 fire.

That area is now a designated taxi and bus park which remains mostly unused, spurned by transport operators who prefer to await passengers on the sidewalks and shopping plazas of the bustling town.

The parish council has consistently rejected suggestions by the registered vendors that they be allowed to temporarily use the taxi park.

The parish council has long promised official gazetting of the taxi/bus park which will make it compulsory for transport operators to use it. But dates have consistently being missed down the years. Fisher is now pledging that gazetting of the transport park will be done early in the new year. Regarding street vending, Fisher said the parish council had requested the cooperation of the police in allowing the practice for the holiday season.

The mayor has consistently told journalists in recent months that, when completed, "early in the new year" the rehabilitation project at the market, including drainage and improved sanitation, will make life more comfortable for everyone and improve security -- minimising incidents such as break-ins and hold-ups. And crucially, he said, the rehabilitation programme will remove the excuses for street vending

But for vendors in the clothes arcade, many of whom have abandoned their shops because of a slowdown in business, Fisher's words are cold comfort.

Apart from anything else, they argue, the parish council was initially at fault, five years ago, for insisting that they relocate to "market back" against their wishes.

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