THE St James Health Department recently lifted the almost one year old closure notice on the People’s Arcade in Montego Bay, but owners who have only been using the shops for storage could lose them.
The St James Parish Council, which has overall responsibility for the arcade, has threatened to sell shops that were not being used for vending. It is estimated that only about 70 of the almost 600 shops are currently occupied as a number of shop owners have returned to the streets to trade their wares.
“The council has written to all the shop owners and given them a time-frame to come in and regulate the usage of the shops,” deputy mayor Gerard Mitchell told the Observer.
But the end of February deadline has passed with no response from the shop owners.
According to the council’s commercial services manager, Hayden Marks, the local government body is now seeking legal advice on how to proceed.
Mitchell maintained that selling the empty shops to vendors who now ply their wares on the street would address the city’s long-standing problem of illegal street vending. But former arcade manager, Dave Allen, charged that getting new buyers for the shops would be a difficult task.
“A concerted effort must be made, by the council, to ensure the viability of the arcade,” he said. “The vendors are not convinced that it’s a viable entity, particularly those that have been burnt (lost money on the purchase of the shops).”
According to Allen, most vendors had abandoned the shops in search of more lucrative methods of earning a living.
Over the years, the arcade has been dogged by numerous problems that began with its conception. The facility was built on lands that the council took from the Jamaica Railway Corporation — an action which created a problem when the council attempted to regularise its relationship with the shop owners.
The facility was also plagued by mismanagement, which culminated in the health department slapping a closure notice on it last May. Citing the lack of running water and the mounds of garbage at the facility, public health inspectors charged that the arcade posed a health risk to its customers and shop owners.
But those sanitation problems have now, for the most part, been addressed. And the health department has officially lifted the closure notice, which had never been obeyed in the first place.
“A written agreement was drawn up between the council and the health department,” said deputy chief public health inspector, Hydda McPherson. The agreement, he said, outlined a time-frame for the drains of the individual shops to be connected to the central sewerage system. “Other matters, such as an adequate water supply system in the sanitation facilities, are all in place.”