Vendors banking on seasonal commercial activity picking up

On Wednesday there was an air of earnestness about the manner in which Water Street vendors were going about luring the relative handful of walk-by potential customers that were glancing at the goods laid out on pallets. They were doing do so despite the unimpressive number of likely shoppers. As yet, there is not much evidence of seasonal goods. A few of the vendors told Stabroek Business that were yet to “see the money” to invest in the household items they were planning to offer for the season. A few others said they were waiting on the wholesalers some of whose imports were yet to arrive in Port Georgetown.

Waiting: Venelder Morgan is  anticipating a ‘rush’ of ladies to ‘nice up’  for the holidays
Waiting: Venelder Morgan is anticipating a ‘rush’ of ladies to ‘nice up’ for the holidays

This served to confirm the unmistakable sluggishness in the trading environment. The pavements are yet to be packed to capacity with vendors and the customary jousting by shoppers for the limited available walking space is not yet in evidence.

We canvassed the vendors’ opinions on the sort of Christmas that might be anticipated. That set tongues wagging about the post-elections “flatness” of the economy. They were offering myriad reasons, some not altogether convincing though the conclusions were invariably the same: “too little money circulating.” Most of them are putting a brave face on it, speculating on the likelihood of bonus payouts and the last-minute announcement of another salary increase for public servants. There appears to be an abiding faith that there is still time left for shopping.

In recent years we have used the New Vendors Arcade on the western half of Water Street as a sort of barometer of the volume of trading amongst the small vendors. For the second year running Shelly McKend and Leanna Alexis, two warm and engaging sisters whose stalls are amongst those closest to pavement were the first vendors that we encountered. They have been offering clothing and footwear from their 145 New Vendors Arcade stall for the past eight years. For them, business this year was “reasonable.” Their regular customers had stuck with them and there had been some new ones.

Eventually, we got around to seasonal shopping. They told us that they were yet to make their customary visits to the wholesalers to do their own Christmas shopping. Apart from the bigger importers the vendors in the Arcade have developed their own bilateral relationships with people who make periodic trips abroad. The ‘barrel trade’ remains as robust as ever. Some of the vendors, McKend told us, have “moved up.” They have successfully engaged the US Embassy in Georgetown, acquired visas and now do their own shopping in New York and elsewhere.

Sisters trading at the New Vendors Arcade:   Shelly McKend and Leanna Alexis
Sisters trading at the New Vendors Arcade: Shelly McKend and Leanna Alexis

The two sisters say that soon the transformation will begin in earnest. The seasonal offerings, household appliances, toys, wrapping paper, clothing for use during the special occasions associated with the festive season, will appear. Close by at Stall 142 Samantha agrees.

At the ready: Marcelle is anticipating a season of manicures and pedicures
At the ready: Marcelle is anticipating a season of manicures and pedicures

The optimism amongst the vendors would appear to derive in part from the transformation in consumer attitudes to the facility since it began to offer its ‘new look,’ in 2009. It remains well kept and there is evidence of greater investment in stock. On Wednesday morning the vendors were sitting around, reading newspapers, chatting, but you could sense the air of expectancy. There appeared to have already been the stocking of stalls with household goods and apart from our perpetually optimistic sisters, the other clothing vendors too were talking about the calm before the anticipated storm where shopping for seasonal clothing was concerned.

The New Vendors’ Arcade houses quite a few beauty salons. They too are waiting for their holiday windfall. Venelder Morgan was sitting inside her own establishment, Virtuous Women Beauty Spot. Business was “slow, but picking up,” she said. There appeared to be little doubt in her mind that the spirit of Christmas would bring her regular customers in. In the weeks ahead she will only be able to attend to customers by appointment. She expects that there will be times when she may even have to work through the night and still be prepared for those wedding engagements that usually take her to customers’ homes. Very shortly she would have to go looking for a few of her trainees to work alongside Rhadika, her sole permanent staff member.

At Ginelle’s Hair Salon, Marcelle appeared to have already entered into the spirit of the holidays. She too talked with enthusiasm about waiting for the customers to come.

On Wednesday morning a brisk and persistent late morning downpour undermined a planned probe of commercial activity on Regent Street. Still, you could see the evidence of vendors, too early, it seemed, deploying plastic sheets to save their goods from the weather. People who had been caught in the downpour had sought refuge in what space was available. They were few, however; at least fewer than the numbers that would be required to justify the faith that things will pick up, which was evident among the vendors earlier in the week.

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