For almost three months, restaurateurs and food vendors waited for the government to give the green light so they could earn a dollar to pay their staff, creditors and provide for their families.
A week after the government allowed this sector to operate curbside, delivery and takeaway services, business owners say the continued closure of the retail businesses means there are few customers around to patronise them.
There were barely customers at the many restaurants, food courts and vendors around San Fernando yesterday. There was a slow flow of customers at Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) and Royal Castle at Library Corner. However, there was a constant queue of vehicles at drive-thrus at KFC and Star Bucks in Gulf View.
In times gone by, the food court at RRM Plaza along High Street would be buzzing during breakfast and lunch hours. However, since the reopening of the sector, few businesses have reopened.
Plaza owner Kiran Singh said not all malls and plazas reopened their food courts. The inner city comprises mostly retailers.
Singh said their continued closure means that many people are not visiting downtown San Fernando.
“Initially, we were quite excited to be given the green light to reopen food courts in the mall and all food establishments and street food. However, what has happened is that the long lines that we expected to materialise did not happen. There is a simple philosophy as to why it did not happen; the retailers have not been allowed to open. Because of that, there is a negative multiplier effect going on within downtown San Fernando and throughout the rest of the country,” Singh said.
He said even in the large malls with opened food courts, about 75 per cent of food businesses remain closed. He said that malls are primarily retail businesses, and with no workers and customers shopping, there is no traffic into the foodcourts.
“It seems apparent this will continue for some time until the retailers are allowed to reopen within our economy. It is not isolated to South but throughout the country.”
It was the same opinion expressed by Naim Allaham, owner of The Urban Curry Cafe, at the food court at Gulf City Mall in La Romaine. Allaham said he previously served breakfast but recently stopped because store workers were his main customers.
“It has been slow, as you can see throughout the mall. I know sales will increase sooner or later when the retail part opens in the mall. Then probably when we get the in-house dining, it will get even better, “Allaham said.
Since opening in 2002, Allaham said this is the worst period of business he has ever faced but acknowledged it was the first time experiencing a pandemic. To survive right now, he cut back on staff hours. While he did not increase prices, it may soon come.
Workers at the popular fast food outlets said Church’s Chicken and Pizza Boys were the top sellers. With KFC prices increased, they said people are choosing the more affordable options.
However, they said since July 19, sales in the food court remains slow.
It was the same story at the Cross Crossing strip, where vendors saw a slight but insufficient increase in sales over the weekend. There were few vendors for the 2 pm- 8 pm shift and even fewer customers in the early afternoon.
“Sales are a little slow because I think people have no money,” Baseem Asaad, owner of B’s Gyros and Burgers, said. Adding to vendors’ struggle, Asaad said the 7.30 pm stop to their operation gives them little time for sales as customers start visiting the food strip from 6 pm.
Following Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s announcements that food vending and restaurants would resume, San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello took a contrary decision to delay the resumption of vending in the city until August. After some backlash, he changed that decision. In an agreement, vendors at Cross Crossing had to stop selling at 7.30 pm so they could vacate the area at 8 pm.
Some vendors said if they do not leave by 8 pm, their businesses could be suspended for a week.