By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Robin Hood’s former principal is aiming literally to ‘rise from the ashes’ by re-opening his former Prince Charles Drive store before Christmas 2012, a move he yesterday said would require a $1.75 million investment and create around 170 jobs immediately.
Sandy Schaefer told Tribune Business that, subject to obtaining the necessary financing, he was planning to re-open the old Robin Hood store - a site that has remained vacant for two years - as ‘Shepherd’s Mart’.
Acknowledging that he had “the wind knocked out of us” when Robin Hood was forced to close its doors earlier this year, a move that cost some 65 jobs, Mr Schaefer indicated he still has big plans for the Prince Charles Drive site, which is the old Pepsi-Cola plant location.
For he told Tribune Business he still aimed to construct a “world class shopping centre” at the site, a move that could ultimately see 350-400 Bahamians employed.
Robin Hood was forced to close after suffering a $3.6 million net loss in its last year in business, but Mr Schaefer’s optimism is seemingly undaunted, as he suggested he planned to ‘return to his roots’ in appliances and other goods, sourcing factory items and direct imports from China.
“My intentions are to serve the Bahamian people once again with the best prices and best items,” Mr Schaefer said.
“The Bahamian people appreciate somebody who’s been knocked down and get’s back up again more than anyone else, because it happens to them.
“We got the wind knocked out of us, but I still have the intention of developing a first-class shopping centre there after the opening, and it’ll be an addition of 75,000-100,000 square feet. I hope to employ around 350-400 Bahamians once it’s fully complete and developed.”
That, though, is still some way off, as Mr Schaefer it still seeking capital to purchase stock and upgrade the store. He did, though, say he would be “open within five-six weeks from the date of closing the financing”.
“We’re going to open this Christmas,” he pledged. “We need about $1.75 million of stock and capital improvements, and some reserve.
“At the end of the day it’s basically a turnkey operation. We’ve maintained it [the store]. It’s been vacant for about two years.”
Mr Schaefer said the major factor behind the closure of the Robin Hood store on Prince Charles Drive was the New Providence Road Improvement Project, which closed roads and impeded customer access to the site. Now, the end of roadworks in that area has transformed that situation.
“Probably the most interesting aspect about it is the main thing that led to our demise will now be responsible for our resurrection, as two-thirds of the population will be no more than 10 minutes’ ride from our store,” he told Tribune Business.
“When we open we will generate, between ourselves and the ancillary stores, probably 135 full-time jobs and 30-40 part-time jobs.”
Mr Schaefer said he planned to open the store as ‘Shepherd’s Mart’, as his name - and his mother’s maiden name - both meant ‘shepherd’ in their respective languages of German and French.
He added, though, that it was only the change of government at the May general election that convinced him to remain in the Bahamas, having been publicly singled out for criticism by former prime minister Hubert Ingraham.
“Without the new government’s help I would definitely have left,” Mr Schaefer said. “They were instrumental in keeping me here, as there was no reason for me to stay.”
With the Government desperate to generate jobs, Mr Schaefer’s project may well find a receptive ear from the Christie administration.
He added: “There aren’t too many projects in the works where you can talk about employing as many people as we are.”
However, Mr Schaefer maintained that he had no interest in re-opening at Robin Hood’s former Tonique Williams-Darling Highway store, as that was owned by former landlord Leslie Miller, not himself.
“I would do anything for him. He’s my good friend,” Mr Schaefer added. “I know he’s struggling as well to get it re-opened, and the issue in this day and age is financing. Money’s tough, not like it was four-five years ago.”