MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Following a drop in business last year due to traffic changes, sales are improving for vendors at the Melrose Yam Park following the recent opening of the May Pen to Williamsfield leg of Highway 2000.
"Since the road has officially opened we get more customers than before, so we give thanks. We hope that business may pick up and go back to normal," said Carol "Shelly" McLean, a vendor at the facility during a visit by the Jamaica Observer last Tuesday.
"I have seen lots of my old time customers, who I haven't seen in a long time," she said.
One of McLean's customers, Andy, told the Sunday Observer that he has been buying roast yam and salt fish at the yam park for close to a decade.
"Me like the yam and the salt fish. I have been coming here for about 10 years. I always stop, because I always support the vendors. Now that the highway is opened I think they will get more customers," he said.
Another vendor, Kerry-Ann, said she is cautiously optimistic and pointed to the need for rest stop signs for the yam park.
"It is a little bit better, not too bad. It is improving, but we still have to watch it. We need signs up and down the road (highway) for people to know that the yam park is here and is open. More people come on Saturdays," she said.
Other vendors shared similar sentiments. Only seven of the 12 stalls at the yam park are occupied.
"It is improving a little bit, but things are picking up a little. We hope in the long run it will pick up back, just like how it was before. Since the highway opened, the business hasn't been all that bad. Cars come in more on the weekends," said Michelle, a vendor at the facility.
"The signs are needed, because a lot of people are getting lost. We need signs to show the people where to go for the yam park," she added.
The vendors believe that over time they will benefit immensely, due to their location being accessible in the eastbound lane (downhill from Mandeville to Porus).
"Now that the road is open. We are looking for our best. We are looking for improvement in the business and we are getting a few extra customers … people who want the yam will come to the park. Let us hope things pick up to where they were before, so we can have a better income," said Andrew, a vendor.
"A person who is heading on the toll and they want some refreshment, they will choose to stop here, because after here, you are not going to pass many business places," he added.
Commuters travelling in the westbound lane (uphill from Porus to Mandeville) will have to access the yam park by foot through an underpass.
McLean said people are reluctant to use it.
"They are scared of under there, because it is dark. There is no light there yet," she explained.
Chief Executive Officer of Ideas Execution, Kevin Frith, who in March 2022 signed a 15-year contract with the Manchester Municipal Corporation for the management of the facility, said a multimillion-dollar renovation is back on track, with phase one expected to be completed in the coming months.
"Phase one of the project means all the stalls and shops there would be renovated so we are working out that now to do the renovation of the existing shops and stalls there," he said.
The National Road Operating & Constructing Company (NROCC), which is responsible for overseeing the design, construction and maintenance of Jamaica's highways, had outlined last year that it set aside land to build eight additional stalls on the westbound side of the highway for vendors.
Frith said he is concerned about access to the yam park from the westbound lane.
"We are still interested and trying to get a meeting with NROCC as a means of dealing with some concerns surrounding the current access," he said, while adding that the meeting is to be arranged through the Manchester Municipal Corporation.
"We have done a survey down there and people are not too liking the idea of walking under the highway to go across. Persons have raised other concerns about security for their vehicles while they are across the road. There are a number of things that need addressing," said Frith.
"In the meantime, we are working on phase one of the project. We are looking to have all the shops and stalls renovated over the next 60 days," he said.
When asked about erecting rest stop signs, Frith said, "that is a part of the renovation and a part of phase one".