By all accounts, a cloud of gloom has been hanging over Bridgetown retailers this Crop Over season, with store owners yearning for some business.
“Slow” was the word at the tip of the tongues of merchants, as they summed up sales for the three-month long festival.
And many of those who spoke to Barbados TODAY attributed the lacklustre performance to the austerity measures introduced by the Freundel Stuart administration in the 2017 Budgetary Proposals and Financial Statement.
At this time last year, stores like The Shoe Palace was overflowing with customers in search of their Grand Kadooment boots or sneakers.
However, there were no shoppers to speak of Thursday, with store owner Latonya Birkett the only person occupying the floor when Barbados TODAY visited the store.
Birkett was bitterly disappointed with the proverbial dry season she had experienced, although she had anticipated that business would be affected by the Budget.
“Earlier on in the season, we decided that we are not going to bring on anymore stock because we saw the decline in energy early on from our customers, based on the traffic and the amount of calls and people coming into the store. It was a very good decision because right now we still have quite a few boots and luckily we didn’t invest anything else because we would have lots of stock on our hands at the end of the day,” she explained.
Birkett said the Budget had dampened the festival spirit, and had forced consumers to shop around for the cheapest items.
“In their general purchases, they are looking for things that cost a bit less,” Birkett said, while adding that she had been forced to offer discounted prices.
“We normally go all the way out in our boots and we decided to go a bit minimal this year, ensure that our prices are a bit lower. We understood what is happening with our customers and we wanted to ensure that we still got some sales even though it wouldn’t be as many as you expect.
“We’re just rolling with the punches and trying to make smart, informed decisions because as a retailer, if you don’t, you could lose a lot of money,” Birkett told Barbados TODAY.
Andrea Phoenix, the supervisor of B-Sharp clothing store, also reported a slow season for her Swan Street store.
Phoenix reported a significant decline in sales in recent months, with customers more selective in their purchases.
“With the new taxes, a lot of customers are complaining and saying that they can’t purchase this and they can’t purchase that,” Phoenix explained.
While she did not expect a big hike in sales as Grand Kadooment approaches, Phoenix was looking forward to a slight increase in sales over the weekend due to the commencement of Bridgetown Market.
The scenario was no different at Sole Addiction where Nancy Noumeh, the store manager, said there had been a noticeable decrease in sales compared to last year.
However, she said as Kadooment Day drew closer, there had been a gradual increase in the number of customers in search of carnival gear at the Trident House store.
“Everybody is just a bit scared of what is going on in the economy so they are just trying to be wise with their money. But I do have things that are affordable for people so I still find that I get a lot of customers,” she pointed out.
Managing Director of Woolworth Martin Bryan said the Prince William Henry Street store was also a victim of the Budget.
“We have seen a downturn in sales. I have attributed that primarily to the National Social Responsibility Levy which has affected everybody’s pocket, because there is less money in your pocket now as everything has gone up or will be going up.
“Even those things that have not gone up, people are still cautious that it is going to go up so ‘let me shop around, let me hold back for now, let me see what the market is bearing and take it from there,’” he said.
However, Martin is holding out hope that business will improve, as evidenced by the large group of women seen crowding the stockings and shoe isle.
Bryan said he expected a shifting of the tide as the reopening of school approaches.
“Once Kadooment is over there are about three to five weeks before school starts back so we will see a big uptake in sales and customers,” he predicted.
While most merchants were complaining about a slow start, Lydia Alfred-Baston spoke of a booming business at Exotica Makeup in Colonnade Mall.
She said the season had started rather slowly, but business picked up over the past two weeks.
“Business has been good. We recently had our annual hair sale and it went very well. The ladies bought a lot of bundles for Crop Over and makeup is selling like something else,” she disclosed.