RADHICA DE SILVA
Shoppers continued to stay away from main shopping areas in the South City on Tuesday as the reopening of phase three of the COVID-19 lockdown took effect.
Many agreed that Tuesday was much less busy than Monday.
Business owners in San Fernando said while they were eagerly anticipating the reopening of their trade, they were very disappointed that shoppers stayed away.
At the Gulf City Mall, the car parks were filled with vehicles but inside the mall was dismal.
"I think people parked their cars in the mall car park and travelled to work. This is the only explanation I could think to explain why the car park is full but the mall is empty," said Jaime Birbal, who took her niece and nephew for an evening of shopping.
Birbal said she was astonished to see several stores permanently closed.
"Sweet 16 was closed down and Meera's store was empty. There were no goods and it looked as if it was closed," Birbal said.
The popular Mac Store was also closed and Birbal said there was a line of people waiting outside of Payless Shoe Source, which opened for business on Tuesday.
At the C3 Centre, there was also a dismal feeling as most stores continued to be empty. People lined up outside the Digicel outlet while a regular throng of people went to Wonderful World to shop for lingerie and makeup.
South Park Mall was also devoid of shopping crowds.
Contacted for comment, president of the Greater San Fernando Chamber of Industry and Commerce Kiran Singh said only75 per cent of stores managed to open in the downtown area. He said 25 per cent of stores had not been prepared for the reopening.
"People did not have time to restock, retool, notify employees, sanitize and put proper health protocols in place for their staff and customers," he said. He noted that the lockdown period had taken a devastating toll on some business owners which had forced some of them out of business.
"We can say about ten per cent of businesses in San Fernando and environs have closed down," Singh said.
He added, "While we are happy for retail stores to be opened, unfortunately, we have not seen a great turnout for shoppers. Shopping has not returned in any significant way and we attribute that to the downturn of the economy."
He noted that there was still a fear factor among the citizenry and many people were still reluctant to come out of their homes because of COVID-19.
Singh said some business owners had reduced their prices with the hope of attracting customers.
He noted that some food sector stores had not opened over the past two weeks despite getting the all-clear from the government as their sales were dependent on worker traffic in the city.
Singh called on the T&TEC to offer subsidies to the commercial and industrial clients who were forced to close their businesses in late March. Singh explained that business owners still had to pay Green Fund levy, income tax, business levy and corporation tax despite the downturn of the economy and closure of businesses.
He also said the Salary Relief Grant should be expedited as many workers had applied for it but got nothing.