By DENISE MAYCOCK Tribune Freeport Reporter
PARK and Shop is closing after nearly 50 years. Many persons flocked to the department store in downtown Freeport on Monday for its big closeout sale.
The closure comes amidst continuing economic hardship on the island that has affected many business owners, including store owner William Russell who opened the shop in 1970, some 48 years ago.
The establishment has been a leading shopping feature in the downtown area and is the second major business to cease operations there.
Some 12 persons will be out of work by the end of the first quarter of this year as a result.
Lisa Darville-Whylly, office manager, said that "it is a really sad time" for everyone at Park and Shop. She said unfortunately economic challenges have proven too much for the owner and a decision was made to cease operations.
She said Mr Russell had tried everything possible to keep the store open by cutting operational costs and improving the customer shopping experience to boost sales.
"Three years ago, despite the sluggish economy, Mr Russell had invested $65,000 in remodeling and upgrading Park and Shop," Mrs Darville-Whylly said.
Mr Russell had hoped for a turnaround in the economy, she said.
"He has always been proud to operate Park and Shop," said Mrs Darville-Whylly, who added that the store is 100 per cent Bahamian owned.
Mr Russell also operates Dollar Plus and the Athlete's Foot, which are located in the same building in Freeport. Those businesses will remain open.
Stores in the downtown area have been struggling since the closure of the City Market food store several years ago. The Grand Bahama Port Authority has tried to attract businesses and visitors to the area by initiating major turnaround projects in downtown Freeport.
Progressive Liberal Party Senator Michael Darville criticised the government for failing to put in place some immediate measures to stabilise the island's economy.
"After months of public demonstrations and urging by the people of Grand Bahama for the government to fix the economy of Grand Bahama, the Park and Shop business establishment is closing its doors after decades of service due to the poor economy. This closure adds to the unemployment woes of this island," he said in a statement.
"What is the prime minister's message to the people of Grand Bahama in the face of this announced closure and the further deterioration of this island's economy?
"He told the straw vendors to have faith, but faith without works is dead.
"The business community continues to cry out to the government to put some immediate short-term measures in place to stabilise the economy and save some of the small and medium-sized enterprises that are truly the engines that drive this local economy.
"To date, this plea has fallen on deaf ears."
Senator Darville also raised concern about the recent increase in the unemployment rate and a reduction in VAT revenue.
"These key national performance indicators or metrics are the direct result of the government's labour, fiscal and economic policies that have failed the people of Grand Bahama to date," he said.
Mr Darville believes that the government is on the wrong track and must reverse and change course.
He stressed that Grand Bahama is in need of an immediate capital injection.
"The PLP has sounded this alarm multiple times over the last eight months, and we sound it yet again: put money on the ground in Grand Bahama.
"After eight months of all talk and no action, the Minnis government has failed the people of Grand Bahama," he claimed.
Last night, during a national address, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said the restoration of Grand Bahama's economy is critical to the Bahamas' success. He said the Grand Lucayan resort property should be sold by the end of the year, spoke of plans to transform Freeport into an offshore technology hub, and referred to other planned investments for the island.