“Nothing will stop me from serving my community,” said Port Maria businesswoman Averil Cooper-Wint. Cooper-Wint and her husband Donovan Wint are independent grocers. Together they operate two locations of The Meat Place in Port Maria, St Mary. Both sides of the town’s main thoroughfare — Stennetts Street — are lined with retailers, including independent grocers. It’s a tight race to secure a sale from budget-conscious shoppers.
“My business helps people,” Cooper-Wint said. Customers can buy “a half and a quarter-pound of meat” from The Meat Place, something that other grocers on Stennetts Street aren’t keen on doing. The businesswoman is as loyal to her community as they are to her. “I give my customers the best and treat them with love.” And Cooper gets some of that love back.
At the beginning of February, heavy rains lashed Port Maria, causing flooding. One of The Meat Place locations was severely damaged and temporarily closed. Cooper-Wint applauds the support of suppliers like The Best Dressed Chicken and Cari-Med, which did not leave her in the lurch. “Best Dressed is very good to us! We really appreciate their help — they are the best so far,” the independent grocer enthused. Soon as the roads were passable, The Best Dressed Chicken had boots on the ground. Members of the sales team ensured that business people like the Wints felt supported and got what they needed. “They even helped us with a new refrigerator,” said Cooper-Wint.
Despite challenges, Cooper-Wint presses head-on each day to ensure that her dozen staff members can support their families. “I’ve survived robbery and a flood, but nothing will stop me from serving Port Maria.” The Wints laid off no staff, even when temporarily operating one location. The couple rotated team members so that everyone could continue earning an income. For Port Maria locals who are just trying to make ends meet, The Meat Place runs specials, sells creative grocery combos at an attractive price, and does giveaways.
Sometimes Cooper-Wint extends credit to customers, a gesture she considers a lifeline when her suppliers, like The Best Dressed Chicken, offer her the same. “They offer me a very flexible payment schedule, which is very helpful.”
These discounts, value-added initiatives, and customer-centric approaches often come at the cost of profits. “I have my loyal customers. I am a part of the community and understand their needs,” said Cooper-Wint. “As a result, sometimes I have to go lower than my mark-up, sometimes very close to breaking even… not to be undercut by other businesses and offer my customers the best price.”
However, even when the Wints face adversity, they find the wherewithal to give, support and be their brother’s keeper.
Two days after the flood rains ceased, after a day spent cleaning up muck and trying to salvage items, Donovan Wint saw a family on the side of the road. “It was a family with a pregnant mom, dad, and five children,” Cooper-Wint recalled. “We couldn’t leave them there. I said that maybe this is the Lord testing me and appearing as this family in need. We had to help them.” Led by their faith, the Wints found shelter, food and clothes for the family. Like the Good Samaritan, they provided food, shelter and rest for the powerless and weary.
Each New Year’s Day, the Wints feed the staff and patients of the nearby infirmary. They also regularly give hot meals to the indigent and homeless. When asked why they do this, Cooper-Wint’s response is almost theological: “We don’t see ourselves as being better than them. We all want to be treated as people.”
Photos: Charles Allen