by Kimberley Cummins
Things are dread for stall operators in the Oistins Bay Garden.
This is according to many of the operators who complained that things were “so dread” they were in the red with the rent and utility bills for their stalls.
When a Barbados TODAY team visited the area yesterday morning traffic through the town remained heavy, but few stopped to patronise any of the businesses there. This was in stark contrast to the large crowds that overwhelm the complex on Friday nights and sometimes on Saturdays. The Bay Garden resembled a ghost town yesterday.
Kiosk after kiosk greeted us with a “closed” sign, and of the 31 or so stalls located there no more than seven were open. And there were no customers, a few pigeons waiting for grains and some vagrants sleeping on nearby benches.
Of those workers present, most were cleaning, while only two or three were actually preparing meals for lunch.
The operator Angel of Angel’s Cafeteria was busy preparing for the lunch “crowd” when the team arrived. She said she felt as if she was between a rock and a hard place because working in the stall was how she supported herself and family and since business had dropped so much she had no idea what to do next.
To defer some of the expenses to the business she cut her staff from four to two as well as cut down on the amount of cooking they did. She dropped prices, implemented $10 food specials and some people also started a free movie night on Wednesdays as an initiative to bring people back to the area, but apparently these strategies have borne no fruit as yet.
“There are one or two people that would come around for lunch, plus the one or two tourists and a new comer in between,” she said. “Before you would get people but you ain’t seeing them no more. All them saying is ‘Nobody ain’t got no money!’,” she said.
“On Friday you would see it improve a little bit but it is not the same Friday we used to have. It would still hold you and help you to pay bills and stuff but it ain’t the same Fridays — you might have the crowd but not the spenders.
“Craft vendors don’t even come out any more during the day. Only on a Friday night you might find them but during the week real slow so them ain’t coming out either and the rest [of stall owners] would just opened for weekends. Compared to last year, it is worst and this is only four months so far in the year. We hoping that it does improve, what we actually waiting on is Crop-Over to see if things will get better but wha’ yuh could do?” she asked.
Sophia Woods, owner of Claire J’s Ice-cream Deli likewise complained of the “dead” sales in the complex during the day. Her stall opens at 6:30 in the morning and offers traditional Bajan breakfast menu, but she said it did not attract many customers and she believed this was due to the fact that Oistins and the Bay Garden were marketed strictly as a night spot.
“People still have their bills to pay so they still have to come out and try something, but we need some kind of activity to promote Oistins more during the day and not just for the night life,” Woods said. “There are businesses here in the day too.”
Woods said in addition to the flyers†she stuck up or handed out to people as a way to advertise here business, she also paid for an advertisement board to be made.
“People are very conservative with their money, conserving every penny but we just have to continue trying and really push the businesses,” she added.
Keith Neblett, General Manager of the National Conservation Commission, the body responsible for the management of the Oistins Bay Garden, said it was drawn to their attention at a recent meeting of the hard times stall owners there were facing but he advised that they needed to band together and plan a strategy for their betterment.
He emphasised the NCC was not responsible for the marketing of the facility and said he believed the same way many small food vendors did well during the week they, also could.
“At the end of the day, they need to as individuals or collectively determine the best way forward for themselves,” he said. “There is no other place in Barbados like Oistins…, but the name Oistins alone cannot now be expected to turn for them. In tough economic times, things you took for granted before you can no longer.
“Just like the hotels did with [the Staycation package] they [stall owners] must realise Barbadians have good spending power and if you have an attractive rate Bajans will come.
“So if they want to get the local market share during the week and not just the Friday, Saturday, Sunday crowds they have to make it competitive, in terms of what they offer Barbadians. You have to have something attractive for people to come but you must first determine what it is you have to market it.” [email protected]