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Sando businesses being strangled by street vendors

Thursday, December 26, 2013
Sajeeda Mungalsingh, of Precious Gold Designs, shows off discounted gold rings to customers Leah Benjamin and Tineisha Cobham on Christmas Eve at High Street, San Fernando. PHOTO: TONY HOWELL

Although street vendors were given designated areas to sell for the Christmas season, downtown San Fernando was tranformed into a flea market with stalls partially blocking store entrances, pavements and the road. As a result, says San Fernando Business Association president Daphne Bartlett, stores suffered a 30 per cent decrease in sales for the Christmas season, ten per cent more than they had projected. 



“Sales for the year 2013 has been very poor. It is the worst since I have been in business, which is over two decades. It has seen a 30 per cent drop over last year’s sales, and one of the problems we’ve been having over the last few days is the conversion of High Street into a flea market,” Bartlett said. “We have to look at the influx of people outside of the city who come to San Fernando, High Street, to ply their trade. 


“What I have been told by vendors is that a lot of people who do not live in Trinidad come to the country to ply a trade for Christmas. So those are things that we have to look at.” This comes on the heels of an agreement between the SFBA and the San Fernando Street Vendors Association that vending would be done only at three allocated areas along one side of High Street. 


But when the Guardian news team toured the busy street on Christmas Eve, there were many new faces selling on the pavements and road on both sides. Many last-minute shoppers were busily grabbing the bargains on the outside, while stores, especially those inside malls, were sparsely patronised.


Barlett explained, “Whatever is available in the stores is available outside on the streets, so it is easy buying. For the shoppers who would usually come to the city to buy things once a year, they would find it very congested and would not want to enter the city. “We did not agree to this, we did not agree for a flea market on High Street. We agreed for a part of High Street to be given to the vendors. “This is telling you that the law was not upheld, and who is responsible for that?”


In response, San Fernando mayor Kazim Hosein said there was a problem in policing street vendors over the past week. He said when he called last Saturday to ask for an increased presence of municipal police on the streets, he was told there were only two officers on duty, and a request to the Ministry of Local Government for increased manpower for the Christmas season was not met. In addition, he said many of the street vendors who set up stalls outside the designated vending areas were unauthorised vendors.


While store owners on High Street, Mucurapo Street and St James Street struggled to sell their goods, hundreds of last-minute shoppers flocked to Gulf City Mall.


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