Merchants in Bridgetown have given a mixed outlook for the Christmas shopping season.
This, amid some Barbadians’ continuing outcries that their spending power has been reduced as a raft of taxes and fees take effect.
But as Government workers receive a five per cent wage increase and with the removal of the controversial 10-per cent National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL), some retailers also sounded notes of cautious optimism.
Managing Director of F.W. Woolworth Martin Bryan told Barbados TODAY he believed Government’s austerity measures would have some impact on how people spend this Christmas season.
There was already a noticeable fall off in sales, he reported.
“I think after back-to-school, everybody now is, I won’t say broke, but certainly the austerity measures that have been put in place – the water bill gone up, NIS contributions have gone up, gasoline prices have gone up – so there is a lot less spend available. So we expected to see the decline that we are seeing. There is no two ways about that,” he said.
However, he said he was in a wait and see mode given that stocks now on island should not be attracting the NSRL and should therefore be cheaper.
At the same time, Bryan said he believed for a lot of people it was simply a matter of “either you are holding strain or it is a matter that you don’t have the money to spend”.
The Woolworth manager suggested that if some of the problems facing the capital were addressed then City businesses could benefit from more traffic and consumer spend even in a harsh economic climate.
“There are a few challenges; parking is one. Not that there is no parking. There is parking, but the vicinity to park and then shop and go back to your car with load is a problem. Vagrants is another problem. The cleanliness of The City is another problem. So these things need to be addressed,” Bryan said.
“We have quite a lot of beggars and (drug addicts) up and down Broad Street and Swan Street begging profusely and it is not a good image. It is not welcoming,” he added, while pointing out that some areas in The City also smelled “very bad” and could “definitely use a sprucing up from city business owners”.
“Other than that you come into town to shop because you are not going to get better bargain or selection anywhere in Barbados than Bridgetown. So if we can overcome those things, and those can be dealt with at a Government and private sector level. Those can be overcome for sure,” said Bryan.
The owner of clothing and fabric store Abed’s, Eddy Abed, described this year as a difficult one, but said he was still optimistic for a better Christmas this year.
“It is a difficult year and anybody in retail will tell you that. We are very hopeful that with the increase salaries in the public sector that there will be more disposable income out there and hopefully that will translate into greater spend at the cash registers at the retail stores,” said Abed.
“We . . . are extremely optimistic that we will have a better Christmas than we did last year,” he said, pointing out that he had taken a decision to source items from cheaper suppliers.
In addition, Abed said he was investing just over quarter million dollars, which should help to boost sales.
“We are sourcing much better prices. We think that we will control more market share purely because of that. We are in fact investing. We are in the process of redoing our Sheraton store. We are spending over $300,000 to do that with the intention to make our stores more efficient. The feel and the touch of the stores for the consumer should be at a greater level, and frankly, we expect that it will perform so we are optimistic,” he said.
But another City store operator painted a bleaker picture of a “dying island” in need of jobs, with spending power weakened by the new taxes.
The woman, who did not want to be identified, insisted that it was time that more jobs were created so people could have more spending power, adding that Barbados could not get all its activities from tourism.
“Business is slow. I am not telling any lie. We want customers. We want jobs. We want things happening,” she said.
“We need to create more activities for Bridgetown. Not only that; get jobs for the people so they can work and come and spend and go around and create their own small businesses and have bigger companies invest in the island. The island is dying,” she added.
At the Bionic Shop, senior clerk Trevor Straker also reported very slow business of recent years continuing.
He said given the slump after the back-to-school shopping season, it was now a matter of wait-and-see for the Christmas period.