“I now reach so I don’t know if the place open, but it look close to me,” Annie Rampersad said as she drove into the car park of PriceSmart in La Romaine. And her intuition at that time was right. People were sitting in their cars, the establishment’s doors were locked and not even the security guards could give people an answer.
Some 64 kilometres away at PriceSmart’s MovieTowne branch, there was the same confusion.
“Morning Sir, we only letting in 73 people at the moment and I can’t tell you what time we going to open so if you in a rush I recommend you come back later,” one security officer told a hopeful shopper.
Today the position is clear. Minister Stuart Young said in no uncertain terms that discount membership stores will remain open during the Prime Minister’s press briefing yesterday afternoon. However, they are to only sell grocery items.
“We have taken a decision after consultation and after representations to the Prime Minister and the committee, unfortunately in the last 24 hours we had some type of behaviour that concerned us where we had said that certain membership stores should pull back because we were having large gatherings...we’ve taken a decision where we’d allow these facilities and one of them being PriceSmart to operate but only to sell essential items.”
But yesterday morning many were puzzled as to why they met closed doors.
“I feel kind of weird,” one elderly woman in La Romaine told Guardian Media, “because I didn’t see anything in the news last night.”
And she would not have as the updated legal notice was only made public around 8:16 am on Friday.
Legal Notice No. 137 section 6 said, ‘All retail establishments, including membership discount stores, shall remain closed to the public.’
Therefore members of the public who were attempting to avoid the daily rush by getting their shopping done early would have been ignorant to the update. However, some saw the notice on social media but did not know it would have come into effect immediately.
“I thought I would have a last-minute run in to pick up some stuff,” one man told us while he was leaving PriceSmart’s Port-of-Spain branch.
A common question they all had however was ‘why?’
For many of them, this establishment sells food stuff which is allowed under the public health regulations.
However, Minister in the Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Legal Affairs, Renuka Sagramsingh-Sooklal said the Government is aware that places like PriceSmart are not in the business of selling grocery items alone.
“They sell clothes, appliances and the list goes on. So with malls closed the information is that people are congregating in large numbers to buy other items. Food is essential but you can get that at a supermarket or the neighbourhood market,” Sagramsingh-Sooklal told Guardian Media.
“Now is not the time to decide you want a new air fryer for mummy, the best gift you can give her on Mother’s Day is to keep her safe,” the Minister added.
But before Minister Stuart Young came and announced that the Government had backtracked on their decision, PriceSmart may have gotten word of it. As at around 10 am yesterday a sign was put up at the MovieTowne branch stating that for now no membership is required and only essential items would be sold. However, that sign was taken down after all of three minutes. It may be back up again today.
In the meantime, their customers are pleased with one elderly couple telling us that they use the discount membership store for their essential items. While others mused that to close places like this would lead to more crowds at the conventional groceries.