As Ministry of Public Works and City Hall workers continued their demolition at the Stabroek Market square yesterday, owners of permanent business structures watched on silently dreading when it would be their turn to see years of hard work torn to pieces.
Over the last four days, hundreds of vendors, both itinerant and those with permanent structures, have been affected by this extensive demolition exercise sparked by the detonation of a grenade on Wednesday which killed one person and left 18 injured. On Saturday many owners of permanent structures around the Stabroek Market area were left in shock, and some in tears, after their business places were bulldozed.
Hangout spots like Fuggie’s Beer Garden located opposite Mark “Bow-wow” Hyman’s stall, where the grenade exploded last Wednesday, have been torn down. Other popular spots like Sean’s Fish Shop and K&VC are expected to be demolished as well while more than 15 permanent structures have already been torn down.
Chunks of concrete blocks, shards of boards and bits of ornaments which once decorated the walls of shabby drinking spots were being removed from the area just in front the Guyana Fire Service and where the 42 minibus park is located. The debris was piled throughout the area creating a scene of utter destruction for those who looked at it.
“This morning (yesterday) at a meeting at Kingston at the Ministry of Public Works, Minister Lall told us that the area where my business was located and where K&VC and Sean’s Fish Shop are had been identified some time ago for the construction of a fountain,” owner of Fuggie’s Beer Garden Walter Lake told this newspaper.
Fuggie’s, according to Lake, has been in operation for about 42 years. He inherited the business from his father-in-law and little has been done to alter the structure in anyway during the last two decades.
“Fuggie’s didn’t grow overnight,” Lake said, “it has been at this spot for decades.”
The Ministry of Public Works and Fuggie’s, Lake further explained, had been in court over the land where the business place had been constructed. A ruling, the businessman said, was made in favour of the Ministry of Public Works.
“Only someone who has watched their years of hard work torn down can understand this feeling I have and well I can’t put it into words for you,” Lake said. “I have footage of them tearing my business place to shreds and it is something I don’t think anyone can ever forget. Something like this stays with you.”
Minister of Public Works and Transport Robeson Benn, according to the businessman, told owners, whose permanent structures were torn down, that they would be provided with a location to re-establish their businesses. However, no mention was made about where they would be placed or how long this process would take.
“All we have is promises and it’s up to the government to keep those promises…I cannot tell you whether or not I am confident that those promises will be fulfilled,” the man said.
Julie Lake, whose father started up Fuggie’s, told Stabroek News that the property was bought from former city mayor John Forde. The woman explained that the structure torn down by the Public Works ministry was worth more than $2 million.
“Just the other day we repaired a wall and that little thing along cost $30, 000,” she said.
She noted that Fuggie’s paid rates and taxes and was a legal customer of the Guyana Power and Light Company. In fact, Julie Lake said that a few years ago the business had overpaid rates and taxes and the City Council has been discounting from it yet. “They still owe us funds which can cover another set of rates and taxes,” the woman said.
Another business owner who had his drinking place demolished on Saturday told Stabroek News yesterday that he had been operating at the location for more than 30 years. He said that he was informed by the Ministry of Public Works that his stall would be demolished and given time to remove his stock.
“The thing I don’t understand is this: they let us operate here for so many years paying rates and taxes and even give us permission to expand and then after this explosion all of a sudden they kicking up a storm and breaking down all over,” the man said.
He further opined that the “rash and rapid” action being taken by the Ministry of Public Works will not eliminate crime in the area. “Look at this I had three employees and the barber shop they broke down had about ten plus all the other places had one or two employees so look at how many people they put out of jobs,” he said.
Demolition works continued at the Stabroek Market area up to early last evening. When Stabroek News made a final visit to the area at about 5.30pm persons were seeing removing the grills from the windows and door of Sean’s Fish Shop. The owner, who only identified himself as Sean, said that the structure would be demolished today.
Meanwhile, several itinerant vendors told Stabroek News yesterday that more than 200 of them have been affected by the recent exercise launched by the ministry and City Hall. On Saturday Benn gave permission to 53 of these vendors to remain at their spots “under the clock” of the Stabroek Market.
“So them give 50 something people a break but wah going to happen to the rest of us eh?” a cigarette vendor wanted to know. The man said that while much attention has been given clothes and shoes vendors others who sell cigarettes, sunglasses and other items are yet to hear word on anything.
At the Stabroek Market area yesterday there was a high presence of City Constables patrolling the area. One man who had managed to set up his cigarette stall had his goods seized. “How y’all expect me to make a living,” the man demanded from the constables as they packed up his mobile stall.
Despite the high risk of having their goods seized phone card and newspaper vendors continued to sit on stools or stand around the market area in an effort to get what little sales they could.
“I ain’t giving up,” a phone card vendor told this newspaper. “Before I start doing this work I used to smoke and sell lil marijuana. It tek me a long time to turn around meh life and start doing this phone card business to get a lil bread and I ain’t going to stop.”