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A sales clerk, left, attends to a customer at Hot Step Shoe Heaven at the Port Mall in Scarborough, Tobago, yesterday.

Camille McEachnie

Few people were out to patronise stores in Tobago as the retail sector reopened yesterday following its closure to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

At the Port Mall-Scarborough, Gulf City Lowlands and D Colosseum at Crown Point, many stores remained closed.

Tobago Division of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce said the situation calls for the financial sector and Government to find creative ways to assist businesses to offset their debts and “restart.”

At the Port Mall-Scarborough, vacant store fronts glass exteriors were plastered with newspapers. Many others, although they appeared fully stocked, had closed signs on their locked doors.

The few customers, milling around, said they were there to buy shoes.

“I am shopping for work shoes. It’s been a while since I could purchase any,” Adanna Hearst-Charles told Guardian Media.

The three women in the store chimed in the conversation, noting that they could only buy essential items and were looking for bargains.

At the Lowlands Mall, not as many stores were empty or closed. However, there were few customers.

Most of them lined the front of Payless Shoe Source to take advantage of the 60 percent off the second item sale.

Timeca Richards said she and her daughter looked forward to shopping for sandals.

Secretary of Community Development, Enterprise Development, and Labour, who was at the Lowlands Mall, said she was “extremely grateful that the retail sector has reopened.”

She was there to purchase clothes to bury her brother.

Assemblyman Dr.Faith B.Yisrael said she was shopping for a computer part and a glasses frame.

She was also happy the sector had reopened. However, she sounded a word of caution.

She said, “ I think it (shopping) just needs to be done safely. We have to be careful because we realize the numbers in Tobago are moving up instead of going down, as they are in Trinidad. We have to be careful about how we are doing this and ensure we follow the COVID protocols.”

At D Colosseum at Crown Point, most of the spaces on the second floor were empty. On the ground floor, which usually houses food stores, not all had reopened on July 19, 2021.

Commenting on the closure of many stores, Tobago Chamber’s head Hadad said businesses are under pressure.

“Many private sector businesses have not just been brought to their knees, but their ankles.Some of the businesses may have remained closed so that negotiations can take place for continued rental of property,” Hadad said.

She added: “We have not heard that rent payments were cancelled. Our understanding is that people are still calling for their rent. Peoples’ stocks may be the first asset to be liquidated so that rent and other fixed bills can be paid. People have mounted up large sums of debts.

She said many businesses might never return as they have spent all their savings and liquidated other assets to pay off their debts.

She offered a solution.

“ The entire financial system needs to be addressed, and the conditions under which people borrow money need to be changed. Financial Institutions need to get creative, and the Government needs to intervene,” Hadad said.