Mon | May 25, 2020

‘I love my business, but I prefer my life’ - Restaurateur shutters business as other vendors struggle to balance sales with safety amid pandemic

Published:Saturday | April 25, 2020 | 12:06 AMAdrian Frater/News Editor
A crowded Fustic Road can be seen outside the Charles Gordon Market in Montego Bay, St James, in this file photo as vending spills out on to the roadway.
A crowded Fustic Road can be seen outside the Charles Gordon Market in Montego Bay, St James, in this file photo as vending spills out on to the roadway.

Western Bureau:

There are concerns that many Jamaicans on the western end of the island are neglecting protocols and guidelines recommended by health authorities to limit the spread of the deadly coronavirus, which has claimed more than 194,000 lives globally since it emerged last December.

While some persons who have the means to have been falling in line with the guidelines, several Jamaicans who depend on daily hustles to make a living are taking far greater risks.

One street vendor in Glendevon in Montego Bay, St James, told The Gleaner that it is hard to maintain social-distancing protocols as he tries to earn his keep.

“Sadly, this is my only source of income, so I have to be out here hustling for the family,” the young man told The Gleaner on Sunday. “I try not to have a big crowd at the stall at any one time, but, you know …, every dollar is important, so you just can’t turn away somebody who is coming to spend with you.”

According to the vendor, he is afraid of offending potential customers by instructing them to maintain a distance when they descend on his stall as that could possibly cost him sales.

“If the police see more than 10 persons at my stall, they are going to stop and ask some to leave, which makes it easier for me because in this business, you can’t allow yourself to offend anyone,” he told The Gleaner.

A Montego Bay restaurant operator who has closed his business and has decided to ride out the COVID-19 episode says that in addition to a significant reduction in business, his personal fear of the virus has so consumed him that he much prefers to stay home and deplete his savings than to keep the business open and expose himself to danger.

“This thing (COVID-19) is serious, and while I love my business, I prefer my life. One morning, I woke up and just decided that today is the day to close it, so I just put up the notice to say we are closed indefinitely,” the businessman said.

Operations at the Second City’s Charles Gordon Market have also been in for criticism because of a blatant disregard for protocols at the facility, leading Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Janet Silvera to describe it as “a disaster waiting to happen”.

“We are sitting on a time bomb at the Charles Gordon Market,” Silvera said earlier this week.

The issue of jurisdiction is a key factor in the breakdown of order outside the market, a source familiar with the situation told The Gleaner.

“The police are saying that the municipality is responsible for the management of the market, which basically spills over to the adjoining roadway, while the municipality thinks it is the business of the police to deal with the encroachment on the roadway,” the source said. “There is an obvious glitch with that situation, and that must be fixed if we are to see any order in and around the market, which is a place to fear at this time.”