Several businesses in Port-of-Spain have been forced to permanently or temporarily close their doors due to plummeting sales triggered by the growing number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country.
As of yesterday, the Ministry of Health had reported 57 confirmed cases.
Among the stores in the capital city whose doors remained shut are Cookies and Cream, Sun Tings, Sasha, Dr Berry Ltd and Bridal and Curtain Shop.
Plastered on the doors of some businesses were notices informing customers they were temporarily out of service and would be back in business once they overcome this calamity.
Grace Perriera, owner of Gentleman’s Forum which sells men’s ties and accessories at Excellent City Centre complained that sales had dropped by 90 per cent following the first confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 12.
Perreira said she tried to attract buyers by slashing the prices of her items but this did not help.
“People are not buying. This virus is crippling our businesses. If this pandemic worsens I may very well have to call it a day.”
Perreira said many of the stores in the centre had decreased their opening hours from eight to four and cut back on staff.
With no money coming in, Perreira said paying her $6,000 a month rent was difficult while she had to reduce her assistant’s workdays from five to three.
Wendy Zama, manager of four outlets of Cookies and Cream— a children’s clothing store said poor sales as a result of the pandemic led to the temporary closure of its Queen Street branch on Monday.
The branch’s eight workers were sent home.
“It’s tough. If we have more confirmed cases in the country I don’t know when I will open my business because people are generally staying away. They are not coming out to buy.”
As business activity continues to slide, Zama said this week she would permanently close her Charlotte Street store which would result in seven workers facing the breadline.
At Frederick Street, manager of Marbin Jewellery Store, Ar Dulal, admitted that he was feeling the effects of COVID-19 as his business has been collapsing.
Dulal said his daily sales had declined to $100.
He also sent home his lone staff member last week.
“Business has been terrible. Poor sales have been killing us slowly but surely,” Dulal said.
President of the Downtown Owners and Merchants’ Organisation Gregory Aboud said in the last two weeks between eight to ten businesses had closed.
Aboud said he had not visited the malls in town to access the overall situation.
As for the numbers of people retrenched, Aboud could not say.
“We have been hearing that hundreds have been displaced on Ariapita Avenue and thousands have been displaced in hospitality in general.”
Hospitality, he said, included bars, recreation clubs and restaurants.
He said all businesses needed to have a plan in place for their workers, while employees needed to be prepared for a prolonged absence from work if things worsened.
Aboud attributed the closure of stores to the dismal decline in shoppers in the city.
He said for some owners it was “a lower cost to close than open. That is what some of them choose to do.”
Aboud said some owners promised to maintain salary structures for their workers in this time of uncertainty.
“We do have our eyes on the possible options that might occur… one of them being a closure of all businesses may occur, as occurred elsewhere. Of course, this would be a big blow to the working public. But if it has to be done in the interest of the safety and health of our citizens, then that would have to be the case.”
He said there was a need for landlords to announce a policy to deal with their tenants who were without an income and for commercial banks to clarify the deferrals on their loans.
In other jurisdictions, Aboud said, businesses have been forced to close.
“As to what will happen to the capital city….as long at it is protected it will be here when we return and we will restart again. We passed through dire circumstances after July of 1990 and we have recovered.”
Aboud expressed confidence that T&T would bounce back from this global pandemic.