Mixed emotions for Christmas across the west
Karrie Williams, Gleaner Writer
WESTERN BUREAU:With less than a week to Christmas Day, some merchants in western Jamaica are painting a gloomy picture for holiday shopping, while many of their business counterparts are upbeat that the festive season will be a good one.
"It's much worse than last year," Tamara Sinclair-Ruddock, accountant at Sinclair's Bargain Centre, located on Beckford Street in Savanna-la-Mar, told Western Focus on Tuesday. "We are now at (December) 16th and we haven't seen much improvement ... . The number of shoppers in the store is low. We don't have many persons coming in, but we're just hoping that maybe by Christmas, it will pick up."
Anthony Pearson, proprietor of Lloyd's Department Stores in Montego Bay, said he was hoping for the best but was still cautious, citing a current low turnover of goods.
"We are cautiously optimistic that it will be marginally better this year. Last year was so bad, if it's even marginally better, we are still in deep trouble. There are no signs (of improvement) yet. Every year, it gets later and later because the few people that pay bonuses tend to pay literally in the ninth hour," he said.
"We used to have a really strong lead-up from the first week of December, but what you find happening now is that it is really coming down to the last two or three days, so I'm really hoping that starting Friday, we'll see some positive signs, but right now it's very flat," he continued.
Randy Stevens, a vendor at the Falmouth Craft Market in Trelawny, told Western Focus that the Christmas season for him looked dim.
"Christmas is not looking bright for us craft vendors at all ... . Every year it keeps getting worse. They say the tourists are coming, but we don't get to see them. All I am hoping for now is to afford a decent Christmas dinner for my family," he said.
Another Trelawny resident, Merline Stewart, who describes herself as an avid shopper, said her spending power has been significantly cut.
"I love Christmas! It's the time of the year when I change out things in my home for new ones. I usually start saving in January each year, but for the past three years, I've had to scale down my spending as I am on a fixed income and I cannot absorb the rising prices," she said.
Over in St Elizabeth, George 'GT' Taylor, president of the Black River Chapter of the St Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce, said the town was in a state of readiness for Christmas.
"As usual, the town is prepared for Christmas, the stores are all preparing ... . We are working in tandem with the store owners to make sure that they give reasonable discounts to people to make the shopping experience in Black River even better ... . I've just spoken to the police and they have stepped up their policing initiatives to ensure the town is safe. The parish council has also done an excellent job of cleaning up the town and getting rid of bushes," he said.
The police in St James have also confirmed that they will be out in their numbers to protect both merchants and other citizens throughout the festive period via increased foot and mobile patrols.
increased security presence
"We have increased our presence on the road in order to protect citizens when they are out shopping. Currently, we have an 80 to 20 deployment. Twenty per cent of officers remain in the office and the remainder are out doing both overt and covert policing," said Derrick Champagnie, superintendent of police in charge of St James.
"We will also be paying special attention to all the financial agencies and places that handle a high volume of cash, and we are reminding businesses not to send persons to the bank with large amounts of cash because this is the time when criminals like to pounce on them. The police are available to persons who wish to do lodgements, so people can call on us, and this is at no cost," he added.
Citizens of Westmoreland are also being assured that they, too, will benefit from increased police presence, according to Leroy Minott, deputy superintendent at the Savanna-la-Mar Police Station.
"Our operational plan for Christmas was rolled out from the end of November. We have divided the parish into five zones and we have senior personnel heading up these zones ... . We are maintaining a high visibility inside commercial areas as we know the possibilities of persons with less-than-honest intentions seeking to exploit others increases at this time of the year," he said.