Closing down sale signs were placed in front of Raymond’s High Fashion on High Street, San Fernando, on the first day of the reopening of the retail sector yesterday.

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More than 94 per cent of all retail stores reopened at the major shopping malls in southern Trinidad yesterday.

On High Street, San Fernando, some stores like Raymond’s High Fashion reopened with clearance sales.

The store owner, who requested anonymity, said he planned to empty his store and is not sure if he will be able to restock or reopen.

“The goods we have here are stocks from last year and business is in a real mess. We have to sell cheap. Clean down and if it is possible to come back with everything new, but right now shipping is a mess and I cannot predict if I will be reopening or if I will have to close permanently. All I know is that I have to sell out these goods cheap,” he said.

The cheapest items being offered were shoes for $50 and quality t-shirts for $60.

At South Park Mall, 94 per cent of stores reopened.

South Park’s marketing consultant Rory Moses told Guardian Media that discounts and waivers were given to store owners by the mall’s management as they grappled with the fallout of the pandemic. This enabled many of them to reopen.

“We simultaneously increased the social media advertising and radio presence, so customers are aware of the essential stores in operation,” Moses said.

He also said that some retail store owners have utilised the grants and loans which were made available by the Government.

“What this global pandemic has shown is that innovation is the next step to transformation. We saw how some of our retail stores quickly designed and implemented their online websites, which is now an added income stream. We all, as business owners, must do what is best to ensure the success of our companies,” Moses said.

Gulf City public relations officer Sarah Ragoonath said 100 per cent of stores reopened yesterday.

“I want to say welcome back shoppers and tenants, we are so happy to be open today and we are ready for whatever is in stock. We have 150 stores and 100 per cent are open.

“The tenants are overwhelmed. We have worked with them offering incentives and discounts. We know it has been a tough time and we look forward to moving forward,” Ragoonath said.

Last week, Greater San Fernando Chamber of Industry and Commerce president Kiran Singh said over 200 businesses in San Fernando and environs had faced permanent closure since the pandemic started.

Fyzabad Chamber of Industry president Clint Arjoon also said over 35 businesses under their aegis are permanently closed.

Coordinator of the Confederation of Business Chambers Jai Leladharsingh also told Guardian Media exclusively last week that 6,000 micro and small businesses from the formal and informal sector have faced closure based on a survey done between October 2020 and May 2021.

However, this figure was disputed by the Ministry of Trade, which said it was unrealistic to say so based on statistics from the Central Statistical Office (CSO), which noted that as of 2019, the sector comprised approximately 8,656 business establishments, contributing an estimated 13 per cent or approximately $20.3 billion annually to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employs in excess of 78,000 persons.

But MP for Mayaro Rushton Paray said data sourced from the CSO’s Register of Business Establishments (February 2019) shows a total of 16,547 SMEs, inclusive of micro-enterprises, which represents 63 per cent of a total establishment base of 26,062. He said the CSO data does not reflect all of the establishments currently existing and operating in T&T, since entrepreneurs are obligated to inform them of their existence or when their operations cease. He said data prepared by the previous government from 2013-2016 cites MSMEs as constituting 85 per cent of all registered businesses, representing more than 20,000 enterprises, with an estimated contribution to GDP of nearly 28 per cent and employment of 200,000 people. He accused the Government of being out of touch with reality.