Mon | May 17, 2021

Pessimism amid positive outlook for business

Published:Monday | February 22, 2021 | 12:12 AMChristopher Serju/Senior Gleaner Writer
Charmaine Ferguson, a shopkeeper in Patrick City, says she has to compensate for the lack of customers by selling ground provisions.
Charmaine Ferguson, a shopkeeper in Patrick City, says she has to compensate for the lack of customers by selling ground provisions.
Lester Crooks, owner of Ken’s Wildflowers in Portmore, St Catherine, says his business has been hit hard by the early closing time due to the curfew, and no events are being booked.
Lester Crooks, owner of Ken’s Wildflowers in Portmore, St Catherine, says his business has been hit hard by the early closing time due to the curfew, and no events are being booked.
Andrea Heslop (left), bartender at Ken’s Wildflowers, plays a game on her phone to pass the time due to slow business at the bar.
Andrea Heslop (left), bartender at Ken’s Wildflowers, plays a game on her phone to pass the time due to slow business at the bar.
Fruit vendor Rae Coombs sharpens his cutlass while his wife, Chrissy, packs away their wares to leave early due to slow business recently.
Fruit vendor Rae Coombs sharpens his cutlass while his wife, Chrissy, packs away their wares to leave early due to slow business recently.
Mechanic Genton Myrie laments the depletion of his customer base.
Mechanic Genton Myrie laments the depletion of his customer base.
Jeffery Lawrence says he doesn’t understand what COVID-19 does at night that it doesn’t do in the daytime, while collecting food at a shop in Portmore recently.
Jeffery Lawrence says he doesn’t understand what COVID-19 does at night that it doesn’t do in the daytime, while collecting food at a shop in Portmore recently.
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Despite a positive forecast in the most recent business and consumer confidence surveys, operators of a wide range of commercial enterprises are pessimistic about an uptick in revenue amid tightened restrictions to rein in COVID-19.

Jamaica has surpassed 21,000 coronavirus cases overall and is closing in on 400 deaths, with a series of new one-day records marking February as the worst month in the near yearlong crisis.

Charmaine Ferguson, who operates a grocery shop in Patrick City, St Andrew, has seen better days and admitted that she had taken a different approach to keeping her business alive.

“COVID mash me up for sure because me naw make no money,” she admitted, while seated outdoors. With profits from the business having dried up to a trickle, she ventured out to rural Jamaica to stock up on tomatoes, sweet peppers, sweet potatoes, cassava, and green bananas to widen her range of produce.

When the price of fuel and travelling expenses are factored, it is not as profitable an initiative as people might think, she said.

“I’m the kind of person who just can’t sit down, me have to be on the move,” she declared.

Meanwhile, over at Ken’s Wildflower in Portmore, St Catherine, proprietor Lester ‘Ken’ Crooks was lamenting the steep fall-off in business caused by the pandemic as he watched three customers on slot machines and the bartender, Andrea Heslop, playing games on her cell phone while chatting to a friend. There were no drinks on the counter.

Crooks, who has been in business for more than three decades, has had to close the nightclub atop the bar since March, in keeping with government directives, resulting in a nosedive in revenue. Additionally, he has to turn off the air conditioning in the bar, again with the protocol from the Ministry of Health and Wellness, to reduce the risk of circulating the coronavirus. That’s been another nail in the coffin to his customer base.

“I am a man [who] born and grow inna Jamaica and I support any government in power, but this one is the worse one. Them lock we down and business gone to rock bottom. You see how big the bar is, and is few people you see a gamble the machine,” the frustrated businessman uttered.

While Crooks’ outlook on the economy is negative, analysis by the Don Anderson’s Market Research Services Ltd showed that consumer confidence rose slightly in the December quarter, from 127.8 points to 131.7, while business confidence jumped from 109.2 points to 128 points.

Crooks, however, said he isn’t feeling the love from customers.

ROLL BACK CURFEW HITS BUSINESS HARD

He is peeved by the decision by Prime Minister Andrew Holness to roll back the curfew hours from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. because he said it has really hit his businesses hard in the pocket. Most of Crooks’ patrons are commuters coming home from work.

“I don’t think Mr Clarke knows what is happening in his country, because is a whole heap a things him talk about and them not working. Look at the man in the street who usually come out in the evenings. What are they going to be doing now? As far as I am concerned, this Government is not for the poor people of this country,” said Crooks.

“COVID is rising, but you have to be careful with the measures you put in place, because you going to mash up the little business people them.”

Meanwhile, Heslop said the pandemic has hit her hard in the pocket. “It affect me bad because financially, me can’t pay my bills again because salary cut, and tips have dried up as well. It is very rare you will get a little tip now and then, but not like one time when we used to get it.”

Produce vendors Raymond and Chrissy Coombs were busy packing up to return to St Mary at 2 p.m. last Tuesday, a good five hours before their usual departure time. Ray was sharpening a machete, as his wife cleaned off and packed away the display table in their van.

The Coombses said that they usually travel to Portmore on Tuesdays with the van loaded with sugar cane, green banana, pumpkin, coconut, yellow and renta yam, green plantain, Irish potato and seasonal fruits. COVID has changed things drastically, Ray said, as he only brought in 50 coconuts, one-third of the usual 150 he sells.

“COVID mash up everything,” was his candid take on the shorter business day. He said it means less time to make sales, especially from their customers who are in Kingston. “So me a go before time. The amount of bills we haffi pay sometimes when me think about it, it just make sense fi we just stay home fi all a week and not bother come out, because it can’t maths out. Now a end a month when people a stock up, and we haff a look money fi pay loans and bills”.

Genton ‘Glen’ Myrie, who operates Portmore Auto Cable Repair, was taking a break because of the absence of clients. He explained that his customer base had been depleted by the pandemic. This has resulted in many customers opting for basic repairs, and very often not putting in the full extent of repairs dictated by his assessment of their vehicle.

“When I do an assessment and tell them all the parts they need, the response is that those things will have to stay until a next time or otherwise they do the basics, the things which cannot be put off.”

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Lawrence, a mason who worked on a nearby construction site and who was waiting to pick up his lunch at Lipstick Restaurant, had a question for Prime Minister Andrew Holness, whom he described as “fi mi prime minister”.

“Prime Minister, why a only night COVID walk or affect people? During the day, all a the vehicle them full up, and when me look pon the JUTC bus, it ram, so why a only after 8 o’clock the COVID give we problem?”

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com