As new school year looms, shoppers grapple with more than usual deals

A parent fits his child with a boot on Regent Street yesterday. (Terrence Thompson photo)

A pair of shoes, durable, comfortable and just the right kind of stylish, is what teacher Akila was looking for yesterday.

A trained Primary-level teacher who had participated in the teachers’ strike last week, Akila (only name given), is returning to the classroom on Monday since she is afraid that the Education Ministry’s contingency plan for the ongoing teachers’ strike could have irreparable impact on her learners.

“The children will be the one punishing and I have an exam class… the Minister said they are going to get persons from the PTA [Parent-Teachers Association] to go into school and possibly have double sessions that made me go back out to work. I have an exam class, I always have an exam class and I can’t have that so I just went out,” she explained when Sunday Stabroek spoke with her yesterday.

The shoes were proving elusive even with the various back to school sales and Akila was contemplating spending a bit more so that she could bring an end to a hectic and tiring day.

Meanwhile, as the idea of substitutes drove fear into some teachers, several parents who spoke with Sunday Stabroek were comforted by the idea.

Pamela Briggs, who like teacher Akila was finding it difficult to locate school shoes for her two teenage children, told Sunday Stabroek though she was worried that teachers might not be in school, substitutes were better than nothing.

“I’m not sure what will happen but the Ministry has said that they will have substitutes and that is better than nothing,” she indicated.

For her, this year’s back to school shopping was proving difficult in several ways.

“Last two years you could find more things and at better prices but this year the options seem to be limited and prices higher,” she lamented.

She was, however, confident that with a little more effort she would be able to find the final accessories needed to get her children out on Monday.

Another parent, Sheanna (only name given), said if government does not satisfactorily settle the pay dispute with teachers in two weeks, her three small children will be leaving the public school system.

“I cannot allow my child to just sit there and I’m wondering whether they are working or not. I prefer to make the sacrifice and send them to a private school because I don’t know when government will sort it out and even if government sort it and teachers are not pleased they will go back into the classroom with a negative mindset and it would affect the kids,” she said.

Some parents are not worried at all. In another shoe store, a parent of a first form Tutorial High student said that based on the comments made by teachers at the orientation exercise last week, she is confident they will be at school.

“They were all at orientation and they all seemed ready for Monday. I’m expecting that they will all be there. I’m not worried at all,” the smiling woman related.

Meanwhile, vendors were ambivalent about how profitable this back to school season has been.

One vendor lamented that shoppers were choosing to buy from the stores rather than the street, since the large wholesale stores had begun offering school supplies at retail prices.

“They selling to us wholesale and to the customer wholesale and retail, we can’t compete with that,” she noted.

Other sellers were blaming government for their woes.

“The economy is drying up. People simply don’t have money and if they don’t have money they can’t buy,” a shoe vendor observed.

One shop owner, whose primary clients are teachers, told Sunday Stabroek that his sales fell by 60% in August alone.

“They normally come when they have their allowance, but they are saying that, they haven’t gotten any allowance in years. You know this place normally so full you can barely walk in but look, it’s empty,” he noted.

Asked if he believed that he was simply having more competition from several Chinese-owned stores that have opened, he said no.

“I don’t have competition from the Chinese stores. We sell a different quality of product. Only one store is competition in terms of quality and their price is a lot higher than mine,” he stressed.

Sunday Stabroek visited several other stores popular among teachers and received similar responses.

“Some have come in but they not buying like they normally do,” another shop owner explained.

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