Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
Long before the plaza became a feature of urbanised life, the shop was a focal point of the community - and remains so for those who are not from the social strata and areas of the country where mall culture rules.
As Jamaican popular music is rooted in the community, it is no surprise that the shop figures prominently in the lyrics. It is the place of not only commerce, but also communal living and congeniality - or conflict.
So Damian Marley's Set Up Shop is the latest prominent song to encourage enterprise and entrepreneurship through retail:
"If you love yuhself then my suggestion
Oonu fi set up shop"
He runs through a number of inner-city communities, from Rema to Tower Hill and Tel-Aviv, as he urges unity and self-reliance through the small items:
"Man a juggle peanut
Man a juggle ganzie
Couple mesh merino
Couple baby onesie"
And through this route, the sellers could get financially secure:
"If yu waan fi live it up like yu win de lottery
Oonu fi set up shop"
However, the question of who would do the buying if everybody 'set up shop' with roughly the same items - and inflation eroding persons' real purchasing power - remains unanswered.
Set Up Shop was released in late 2011. Last December, The Gleaner reported the central bank as saying:
"For 2011, the average monthly increase in inflation for the January to October period was 0.5 per cent and it is not anticipated that the average monthly inflation for the rest of the calendar year will be out of line with recent trends."
Accumulated inflation from January to November 2011 was 5.6 per cent, marginally less than the 5.8 per cent for the year to November 2010."
Half Pint recognised the significance of inflation at the start of his mid-1980s song Cost of Living, as he sang:
"It's a world inflation
Rising against nation
Cost of living getting higher
More seller than buyer"
And while Jr Gong encourages all to "set up shop", over two decades before him Half Pint pointed to the overcrowding of the marketplace:
"Take a look in the marketplace
You can't even find no space to walk
A lot of higgler a lot of peddler ... "
In December 2007, Edward Seaga noted in The Gleaner that "In 1987, the exchange rate was pegged at J$5.50 to US$1.00 after a prolonged battle with the IMF." By mid-2011, the exchange rate of the Jamaican to the US dollar was 86:1, this severely affecting a country with a long-standing trade deficit with the US. The imbalance with Trinidad and Tobago has made headlines along with rumblings on the fairness - or unfairness - in more recent times. A lot of the imported items naturally end up in the shops.
Matters of commerce apart, the shop makes the Jamaican record as being a source of unpaid for food to a place that is left alone by the hungry. In Ghetto Story, Baby Cham deejays:
"I remember when we rob de Chiney shop dung de road
An rumour have it say de Chiney man have a sword
But we did have a one pop whe make outta board
So yu know de nex' day Mama pot overload"
However, at the One Love Peace Concert in 1978, in the speech before his final song, Peter Tosh rejected the option of breaking, entering and eating. He said: "And me personally, if it was fi me alone, every police station lock up and police go sleep a him yard an' hug up him wife. Me no waan nutten fi tief. Me go tru de lowes' level of degradation, humiliation, incrimination and brutality and yet still I never ben' my min' an say make I go lick off da man deh shop door an see I could a hol' suppen."