Sat | Jul 20, 2019

Suffering under SOE - Enforcement of early closing hours hurting bars and clubs in St Catherine north

Published:Sunday | October 14, 2018 | 12:00 AMCorey Robinson
The shuttered Club S Class, an adult entertainment centre, in Dam Head, St Catherine.
Members of the security forces at a checkpoint in the area under a state of emergency in the St Catherine North Police Division.
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The state of emergency (SOE) declared in the St Catherine North Police Division has resulted in a big reduction of crime in the communities it covers and an equally big reduction in the earnings of many small nightlife businesses in the communities.

Official figures released by the police last Monday showed that at October 8, murders were down almost 25 per cent when compared to last year, with shootings down 43 per cent, but the business operators say their earnings are down more than 50 per cent.

In the case of Club S Class, an adult entertainment centre in Dam Head, earnings are down 100 per cent, as it has been shuttered.

Last week, operators of several night-time spots in and around Spanish Town told The Sunday Gleaner that they are fed up with how members of the security forces have been treating them under the SOE.

The mostly bar operators claimed they are being unfairly treated by members of the security forces who barge into their business places and demand they close shutters at the stipulated 10 p.m. shutdown time for bars.

At least two bar operators have already been taken before the courts for breaches of the closing time and other charges.

The bar operators claimed that the viability of their businesses, already weakened by the opening of the North-South Highway, which has routed traffic away from them, is taking another blow from the SOE.

"The same time that the customers dem come at nights is the same time the security forces come, and it just don't make any sense," said one bar operator.

He said in addition to paying $20,000 for rent, he has been struggling to pay his two bartenders $9,000 weekly.

"I'm in bankruptcy right now. It is like I'm putting in and not taking out anything. They are dealing with us wicked over here," he added.

According to the bar operator, in recent days, he and one of his bartenders have had to fork out $7,000 each for operating without a spirit licence and no food handler's permit.

 

'HIDE-AND-SEEK'

 

He said like many other bar operators trying to stay viable, he has had to shut his door, turn of his lights and ask customers to have their drinks in the darkness, as he tries to evade the gaze of the cops after 10 p.m.

The braver, more loyal customers will stay, he said, but others opt to leave.

"I'm not taking any risks for any bar owner. Not me. I am not fighting with any police over people place. If them say I must lock up 10 p.m. that is what I do 'cause most of them police don't have any manners and I don't want me and them to have nothing," said a bartender at another bar.

She said while she had been playing the 'hide-and-seek' game with the cops since the SOE was declared, an incident at another bar last Friday got her scared.

The owner of that establishment said two weeks ago, while the bar was closed, her bartender and a few customers remained inside after 10 p.m. to shelter from rain.

She said the cops barged into the bar, complained about the cut-off time, and then requested her spirit licence and food handler's permit.

According to the woman, the bartender didn't have a food handler's permit with her and the cops collared her and wheeled her off to the Spanish Town Police Station.

But Inspector Dian Bartley of the Jamaica Constabulary Force Corporate Communications Unit said the businesses operating in the areas under a SOE will just have to comply with the set closing hours.

"Once you fall within the category that says 10 p.m. you must comply by law. It is an elevated state of public emergency, and we do allow for flexibility, but once you go beyond the 10 p.m. time and the police decide to shut you down, they should," said Bartley.

She said while the operators are looking at their bottom dollar they do not realise that they are at risk from criminals displaced by the SOE in other areas.

"They, too, are in danger, and it is for their own safety," argued Bartley.

But that is little comfort for the operators of Club S Class, which once bubbled with activity at nights into the wee hours of the morning.

It is almost unheard of for Jamaicans to visit adult entertainment clubs until well after 10 p.m. and the building now resembles an abandoned and desolate space, with empty rooms, dusty bar counters, and stages usually occupied by scantily clad dancers now covered with cobwebs.

The club was shut down a few weeks after the SOE was declared, and despite the opening hours for clubs being moved to 2 a.m. last month, seems set to remain closed for some time.

corey.robinson@gleanerjm.com