By FARRAH JOHNSON
VENDORS Friday criticised Works Minister Desmond Bannister and the Straw Market Authority (SMA) for their decision to close the Bay Street Straw Market for repairs during one of their busiest sale seasons.
On February 13, the SMA issued a letter notifying vendors that the Authority, “in conjunction with the Ministry of Public Works,” would close the market to carry out “repairs and maintenance,” beginning on Saturday, February 23.
On Friday, Reverend Esther Thompson, president of the Straw Business Persons Society, told The Tribune vendors felt disrespected after only being given nine days notice of the market’s closure without consultation.
“We had a meeting with the minister yesterday which was the 20th of February,” she said. “The minister made me feel like it would have been a negotiation and we would have been able to come up with a date for the vendors.
“That was my impression of what was going to happen; however, when we went into the meeting he let us talk (but) you could have see his mind was made up.”
Mrs Thompson said during the meeting she asked Mr Bannister to give the vendors at least three weeks to “better prepare themselves mentally and financially” for the market’s closure.
Still, she said, the minister told her that the market had to close on the scheduled date.
“They say they want to paint the pipes to reserve them and when they do it we can’t be in here because it’s hazard material,” she explained.
“So my position was, you had me in this situation for eight years and now you say you want to address it. You bring it to our attention, we accept the fact that you want to address it (but) you only give us nine days to clear out everything.
“I have a problem with that because you had my life in danger for eight years and all I asking you for is three weeks for these people to better pull they self together and you refusing that? That’s a problem for me.”
Mrs Thompson said she felt the market’s closure was a ploy to get rid of vendors.
Referring to the notice issued by the SMA, she added: “In the front of the letter they say the market is opening on the 29 of February, but in the back of the letter they put the same thing and added that in the event the re-opening date change, we would be notified by public media. They aren’t even clear of the time and that was my major fear.
“I realise it’s a trick to get us out of here with no proper planning. You don’t think they could have made better arrangements for these people if they had any care and concern about people?”
While canvassing the Straw Market, The Tribune spoke to other vendors who said they believed the repairs could not have come at a worse time.
Brenda Ferguson, who has been working in the market for over 60 years, told this newspaper she felt disrespected by the sudden closure.
“It’s just deplorable and it’s a disgrace how it went down,” she said. “We know the market need to be repaired. We’re not running from that, but this month is our spring break. We sat down many days with nothing. Why y’all wait until February to do it?
“We’re human respect us as humans. It should have never been done that way. At least three weeks would give people a little time to make something...you know what it is to close down and you don't have nothing?”
Another vendor, Dorothy Wilson-Huyler, added that the announcement of the market’s closure took her by surprise.
“This is the wrong timing for the Straw Business people,” she said. “I am dumbfounded. I don’t even know what to do.
“It’s really an awful time for the government to step in to take you out of this. Spring break –out of all of the years I was in here– you look forward to it.”
Brandon Taylor, who has been helping his mother in the market since he was 11 years old, also said that the news left many vendors confused and uncertain of their next move.
“From that letter came down that was a bunch of controversy because it was so short notice at the time.
“If they could have had a longer date to prepare for the closure it would have been great also. The people didn't give them any type of say on the matter and that’s it.”
Mr Taylor insisted that some of the vendors don’t make enough money to feed their families at times.
“Some people even catch bus here so how will they move their stuff home?” he asked.
“That means the little money that they made they will have to pay a truck to carry their stuff away? And if they have to do that what money will they have left saved for themselves when they don't even have nothing ?”
In the letter issued by the SMA, vendors were told that the Straw Market would close at 8pm on Saturday, February 22 and would re-open on Saturday, February 29 at 7am.
Vendors were asked to remove all merchandise, and personal items from their respective stalls on or before Saturday, February 22.
The letter also advised that no vendor would be granted access to the Straw Market building or surrounding patio from February 22 until its scheduled re-opening.
It was noted that any items left in the market after the designated closing time would be “discarded without further notice.”
When contacted for comment, a representative from the Straw Market Authority directed this newspaper to the Ministry of Public Works.
Works Minister Bannister could not be reached up to press time.