Despite the many concerns about the possible impact of the controversial National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL), parents have been rushing to businesses in Bridgetown for last minute shopping ahead of the start of the new school year.
Store owners and managers are reporting a surge in business in the past few weeks, with school bags and uniforms at the top of shoppers’ lists.
For some, like the popular department store Cave Shepherd on Broad Street, business at the start of August was below normal.
However, in recent days there has been such a shift that Corporate Communications Specialist Mark Anthony said business has surpassed that of the corresponding period last year.
“We are now into September and sales are up over last year for this period. August started off really slow, we didn’t get the traffic that we are accustomed to, but for September things are really looking up,” Anthony told Barbados TODAY.
“School bags and uniforms are what people are buying because the first school term is usually the big point. It either means a change of year or school, so it’s a cross-section of items [that are being purchsased].”
At the popular fabric Store Abeds, customers are moving away from buying fabric and are choosing ready-made uniforms instead.
Still, Store Manager Hassan Towini said business has been good since the beginning of last month.
“In the early days it was a bit quiet, but we started to see traffic in the month of August. Sales were good for August and we are in the first week of September and there is the rush for parents here to do the last moment shopping. They are buying the material for the school uniforms as well as ready-made. We used to sell more fabric but that has changed,” Towini said.
“I expect tomorrow and Saturday will be buzzing and next week the atmosphere will be different. It’s going to be quiet.”
When Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler announced in the May 30 Budget that Government was raising the NSRL from two per cent to ten per cent from July 1, there was uproar from both the labour movement and the private sector over its potential impact on prices and business.
As anticipated, the prices of goods went up, and some businesses last month blamed the taxing levy for slow sales.
However, despite the added hardship, parents such as Jacqueline Raymonds, who was busy searching for school shirts, said they had little choice but to find the money to ensure their children had books and uniforms for school.
In fact, Raymonds told Barbados TODAY the dreaded tax had little impact on the cost of school apparel.
“To me the prices seem the same as normal. Yes, there is the NSRL but I don’t find that I am feeling the impact in that way. I don’t know if it’s because where I’m shopping is offering discounts, but I’m not feeling [it],” she said.
Over at Brydens retail store there were long queues of parents and guardians purchasing textbooks and stationery.
Supervisor John Holder suggested that the NSRL had not dented sales, with “a good crowd coming in” for minor items such as pens, pencils, sharpeners and crayons, as well as textbooks.
“We have not seen a cutback in customers. Books is a necessity, you have to buy the books, but nobody is complaining about the prices. As far as Monday we will still see more coming through and as far as Saturday we also expect a bigger crowd,” Holder said.
In addition to clothes and stationery, school shoes were also at the top of the priority list at Ouch boutique in Swan Street, where Philip Als was with his daughter Shakayla, a student of Blackman and Gollop Primary School, who was trying on a pair of sneakers for physical education.
Jamar Whittaker and his son who will be entering Lawrence T Gay for the first time, were also browsing the store in a last ditch effort to find a school bag.
“I don’t live in Barbados anymore but I make sure I come home and put my son into school for his day, “ a proud Whittaker told Barbados TODAY.
“Today was orientation so we just come back to Bridgetown to get the last things now. No matter where I am in the world he is my priority so I fly back in two days ago.
“Most of his stuff I brought in because to be honest things in Barbados are too expensive right now compared to where I am . . . . I brought in all his stationery and stuff but his school bag is the only thing I couldn’t source and I’m in this store just to get his bag.”
The new school year is scheduled to begin on Monday, but Minister of Education Ronald Jones yesterday announced that five schools would not be ready, with the opening of St John Primary, St Giles Nursery, All Saints Nursery and St George Secondary delayed by a week, while the Wesley Hall Infants School opens next Wednesday.