It took Stabroek Business several takes to capture the spirit of the season as exemplified in a surge of downtown trading, pavements completely clogged by vendors and shoppers and restaurants taking advantage of the propensity for eating out at this time of year.
Rather than the gradual buildup of consumer spending that customarily characterizes the approaching holidays, this year, the surge of shopping seemed to manifest itself with a suddenness that caught this newspaper somewhat by surprise. It was as though one day the city was going along at a clip or two above its customary sedate pace and the next an explosion of trading had occurred.
By Tuesday of this week it was already too late to secure even our customary hurried interviews with pavement vendors. They were simply too busy trading; their numbers this year seemingly significantly up on previous years, reflecting the persistence of high urban unemployment. The downtown stores, which since the end of November, appeared to be waiting impatiently for the first signs of seasonal shopping, were, by last weekend beginning to swell with customers rummaging through piles of goods that had earlier been neatly arranged. As is customary, household items: kitchen ware, bedsheets, blinds and decorations appeared to be hot sellers. On Regent Street there was evidence of beefed up security in stores and the sales attendants appeared rushed off their feet.
As far as we could tell the explosion of consumer spending appeared to coincide roughly with this week’s official announcement that public servants whose salaries have not reached $500,000 would receive a bonus of $50,000 and that the payout would take place before Christmas. It was as if (and this is only our impression) people were venturing to spend ahead of the actual payout.
The previous weekend we had made our customary seasonal pilgrimage to the Water Street Vendors Arcade where the vendors had told us that they were waiting. By earlier this week there was evidence that their predictions of a surge were justified. There was evidence that their optimism had been justified. The relative quiet of the previous week had been replaced by evidence of steady trading.
There are concerns, though, that the demands of urban commercial activity – particularly at this time of year – have outstripped our capacity to make adequate provision for the phenomenon. It is clear that a Georgetown, which is now bloated beyond capacity, can no longer accommodate the sheer volume of vehicular traffic. The streets are woefully inadequate and parking, long a nightmare, has now become an outrageous irritant. It was already dark on Wednesday evening, but the day’s traffic was still moving at a crawl in the vicinity of Camp and Regent streets.
The season, notwithstanding, the crush of vendors and shoppers on every conceivable inch of pavement can be a discomfiting experience. You have to inch and bore your way along, mindful as you go that pickpockets may not have already sized you up. We saw less than adequate evidence of security on the streets this week. Maybe in what is now the week before Christmas security will be beefed up.
The furniture stores were trading last week too. We saw evidence of that at Courts and Singers. The practice of taking advantage of generous seasonal hire purchase offers is still as popular as ever, the price of having to pay regularly and in small amounts in the period ahead, notwithstanding.
The same level of seasonal madness had not appeared – up until earlier this week – to have afflicted the city’s supermarkets. Shopping for food is usually much more of a desperate dash, characterized by its own particular brand of excitement. That, almost certainly, will manifest itself by this weekend and will drift inexorably into the new week, up until late on Christmas Eve.