The Straw Market on Bay Street.
By LEANDRA ROLLE
STRAW vendors yesterday criticised the Straw Market Authority’s decision to close over 190 stalls at the market, citing it as an “unjust and heartless” move meant to drive them out of business.
In a letter addressed to SMA chairman Kelly Ingraham, the Straw Business Persons Society expressed disappointment in SMA’s “reckless” actions, noting that the vendors should have received written warning in advance about their stall closures.
The letter noted: “(Vendors) met their stalls locked upon arrival to work on October 15, 2019…why was this shock and awe tactic used in this instance? How can you and your team be so cold-hearted and reckless towards a hard-working group of people who just want to make a living and provide for their families?”
According to SBPS, the closure of these stalls results in a total of some 300 stalls closed at the market. And added to these complaints, as noted by SBPS, is the limited amount of time given for vendors to pay their fees.
From Monday to Thursday, vendors have until 2pm to pay cashiers. Meanwhile on Fridays, vendors have until 2.30 pm to pay their fees.
“When compared to cashiers at other government entities, it is evident that the straw vendors are at a grave disadvantage. This is so simply because some vendors don’t make a sale until after 2pm,” the letter said. “We believe these business hours need to change and come into alignment with other government enterprises that closes at 4pm daily.”
Vendors also complained about the lack of proper cleaning supplies provided in the Straw Market’s restrooms.
“There is very little hand soap, tissue and no hand towel placed in the rest rooms. There is still no proper signage, the lights are off in certain sections and then in the other sections there is no lighting, and in the facility, it lacks proper maintenance… the tourists are disgusted,” the letter stated.
In speaking on these issues, SBPS called for the government to address the actions taken by SMA, while also imploring officials to be more considerate to their needs.
“We firmly believe that the government should seek to appoint persons with some life experience, interpersonal skills, managerial skills, and the ability to resolve matters with wisdom…,” the letter continued.
“We (also) need the government to be more sensitive. Case in point, if the Straw Market have over 500 stalls and almost 2/3 must be shut down for arrears, that should send a loud signal that highlights that the rent is too high, and some type of concession needs to be given to vendors.”
Up to press time, Works Minister Desmond Bannister, who has responsibility for the Straw Market, did not respond to requests for comment.
The rent for stalls at the market is $37.40 a week. Mr Bannister has previously defended the government’s hard-line stance on arrears payments, saying in 2018 there were some cases of vendors who had not paid rent for years.
“They’ve had deadlines several times,” Mr Bannister said last year, after reports of evictions at the Straw Market. “I mean we have people at the Straw Market who have not paid rent for years. Three, four years (and) this is $30 something dollars per week adding up to thousands and thousands of dollars.
“We can’t run a market like that.”