It is 7:44 in the morning, exactly one week before Christmas and there is a line of persons on Robb Street; their faces appear pensive. No, they are not standing in front of a bank or any other of the ‘important places’ like an embassy. They are standing in front of the popular store China Trading.
“Eh, eh like this is a Food for the Poor line,” a passerby joked as she passed the persons standing in front of the store; its front door was open halfway for the employees who were still trickling in.
“I just want come early and beat out because I don’t able with this line when the day come,” one woman was overheard saying to another.
The Sunday Stabroek approached another woman and asked why she was there so early. She went into her purse and produced a bill, explaining that the day before she had visited the store and had it written up not realizing that the line to the cashier was almost on the road. “I couldn’t deal with that line, so I just went away and decide to come back early today,” she added.
It is the Christmas season in Guyana and the streets continue to be busy, the stores are filled, and the roadside vendors are making steady sales. The train of shoppers every day from early in the morning to late in the night is amazing and while some complain that they don’t have money they are still seen buying artificial flowers and ornaments. For some, it’s just because there must be ‘something new’ in their homes in time for December 25.
Pam, only name given, is also standing outside of China Trading with her two sons. When approached by this newspaper, she related that she wanted to avoid the large crowd and her sons wanted to “come for the walk”.
“You know if you come hay later is a whole two hours or more you spending; and I don’t really have dah time to spare. I have a lot of cleaning and suh to go home to. But I want to get these things before it done,” she said as she tapped one of her feet indicating some impatience as she waited for the store to open.
A couple and their two young sons are also in front of the store and they revealed that they came all the way from Essequibo and wanted to ensure that they left the city by midday in order to be back home before dark.
“Things expensive up deh you know,” the man shared when approached. He added, “And dem boys want come to town you know, so we mek one thing and do everything now because after this is bare business.”
As the store employees slinked into the store one after the other, the prospective customers peppered two Chinese men who were manning the doorway with questions about the store’s opening hour. As they hungrily dug into what must have been their breakfast in small white plastic bags, the men answered between bites that it would open in 10 minutes then it was five minutes and yet another two minutes much to the annoyance of those who waited.
The door finally opened and the would-be customers rushed in and for a moment it seemed as if the store was indeed giving away freebies. But they quickly approach-ed the various employees and it was business as they enquired about the various merchandise on sale and made their orders.
Over at the section that sold an assortment of fairy lights the crowd had already built up and the customers competed with their voices to get the attention of the two sales girls there.
“I was number two in de line, look at me. I was number two, you hear girl? Sell me. Ah say I was number two in de line,” a woman repeated over and over as she attempted to be sold before the others.
“Wah she think? This is a toll, the hospital or the bank mek she keep saying she is number two? And you know she lying. I was the first person here, since 7.15 and she come long after,” grumbled a woman to this newspaper as she herself ordered the lights she wanted.
When asked why she was at the story so early she explained that she had visited the store the day before and the crowd was too big.
“I know what a want but I couldn’t do it yesterday. If you see the crowd so I just come down to pick up the light and then I gone back home,” she said with a small grin as her bill was being prepared.
Half an hour had not gone by yet and one of the sales attendants appeared overwhelmed.
The Sunday Stabroek asked quietly how she manages during the day. With what appeared to be a pained look she thought for a while before she answered even as she continued to write bills.
“By not looking up, sometimes a does frighten to look up because you know dem customers does quarrel and so. So I does just listen to what they say, who say it hardest well I look at them and go quick and get de light and give them. But it does be hard sometimes,” she admitted as she turned to another customer.
Gas stove and vinolay
Later that day on Regent Street, this newspaper observed a woman purchasing a new gas stove. She gave her name just as Jackie and when asked why she was only now purchasing a new gas stove, mere days before Christmas, she responded: “I know I had to get a gas stove but like I just want it fuh Christmas. You know when I get up on Christmas Day I guh cook on the new stove, is dem thing that does mek Christmas nice,” she said grinning and she began to search for a “reasonable” taxi to take her stove home.
She explained that she had to be careful with the taxi she took as she could not afford the “million dollar nuff a dem does want charge now.”
Another woman said she was looking for gift but later in the conversation she indicated that she just wanted to have a feel of the streets during the season.
“To be honest I does like the hustle and bustle,” she said, adding, “Yes it does be tiring but like if I don’t come out like I don’t feel good.
“I don’t really need nothing for my house, but you never know when I come out I might see something for a bargain.”
Michelle was having her blue vinolay measured on the pavement in front of the Hamid’s store on Regent Street. While keeping a hawk’s eye on the store’s employee to ensure that she receives what she paid for, she told the Sunday Stabroek that she could not allow Christmas to come and find her with the same old vinolay.
When asked why only around this time, she said it was only now “I get the small piece.”
But on second thoughts, she ventured to say “But even if I had the money I would wait till now because you does want you house nice fuh Christmas. And you see I buy it now is till Christmas Eve night this going down, so when we wake up in the morning is like brand new.”
She also was wondering about the exorbitant taxi fares and indicated that she might have to leave the vinolay and return later as she had a “few more fine things to pick up.”
At Ariel, a store known for its curtains, carpets, mats and chair covering, both floors were packed with mostly women eagerly picking out their ideal merchandise; the sales personnel appeared tired.
And no one appeared to notice the security guard with a long gun standing at the door of the bottom flat facing Regent Street. The Sunday Stabroek attempted to find out the reason for his presence and was told that a transfer of cash was about to occur.
On the pavement, the vendors were out in their numbers and when approached some said the sales were good, but one woman responded they were “so, so.”
The vendors usually visit wholesale stores and purchase large quantities of items which they retail.
A woman who was making a purchase was asked by this newspaper why she chose to buy from the pavement vendor as opposed to going into a store and finding the same items, likely at a reduced price.
“To be honest the convenience is what get me. I just walking going back to work and I pay quick and get this thing. If it was a store, especially them Chinese store, is a whole crowd and then you have to get a bill and stand up in the line to pay,” she said explaining her choice.
A consummate shopper, who is well known to this newspaper and is always up to date with what is happening on the streets and in the various stores, related that she loves to window shop. She commenced her purchasing months in advance but yet as Christmas draws closer she is still walking the busy streets.
The fast food outlets are not left out as they are also filled with patrons.
Guyanese continue to wait for the last minute to do their shopping, whether it is for the bargains or that they finally succumb at the last minute to the urge to get something new for the season.
Every year on Christmas Eve the streets are filled until the stores are closed although this newspaper was informed that many of the persons are just window shopping as they just enjoy the hustle and bustle.