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Liquor Store Blames Rivals Over Govt's 24-Hour U-Turn

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Gary Sands

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A Bahamian liquor distributor yesterday accused its rivals of “pressuring” the government to perform a u-turn on its free home delivery service in less than 24 hours.

Gary Sands, Jimmy’s Wines and Spirits general manager, told Tribune Business it was “a huge disappointment” that the government yesterday afternoon revoked the approval it had given just the day before to a launch a brand new service amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company, which is the retail arm of the Freeport-based Bahamian Brewery and Beverage Company, had sought to overcome New Providence’s lockdown through a home delivery service that would fulfill orders for a minimum $200 worth of alcohol ordered by phone, What’s App or e-mail.

Social media advertising was launched, with at least one promotional flyer obtained by Tribune Business touting a 9am to 4pm service with Busch Light bottles offered at a special price of $35 per case. However, the plans were halted almost as quickly as they were hatched, with Mr Sands alleging that a high-ranking civil servant informed him that competitors lobbies for the approval to be revoked.

That could not be confirmed before press time last night, but Mr Sands the home delivery shutdown had also deprived Jimmy’s and its brewery affiliate of the chance to earn precious revenue that would have helped to pay its 150 staff amid the COVID-19 national lockdown and its continued recovery from millions of dollars worth of damage inflicted by Hurricane Dorian.

“It’s kind of expected when there’s uncertainty going on and a lot of pressure from external competitors. It is what it is,” he told Tribune Business of the approval revocation. “We got one approval for this on March 23 when they were doing the 9pm to 5am curfew, and a few days later they went to 24 hours.

“So we applied again for permission, and got it last night [Wednesday]. We started doing deliveries, but around 2pm this [yesterday] afternoon they sent us a letter revoking the approval.”

Voicing his frustration at the government’s abrupt u-turn, Mr Sands added: “You get it this day, and don’t get it the next day. I feel there was a lot of pressure to the government through our competitors. That’s what he, the permanent secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, said.” He did not name the “competitors” involved.

David Davis, the permanent secretary in question, could not be reached for comment before press deadline last night. However, additions to the list of businesses to be treated as “essential services”, and exempt from the nationwide lockdown, specifically excluded alcohol when released on Wednesday night.

It stipulated that “groceries and non-alcoholic beverages” could be operated as a mobile delivery service between 9am to 5pm provided they adhered to social distancing protocols. But Jimmy’s Wines and Spirits, following the approval termination, said in a note to customers last night: “With stores closed, we did our best to get our customers products they love most.

“After receiving an exemption letter from the Office of the Prime Minister on March 25, 2020, granting permission to operate within strict guidelines, it was unfortunately revoked 24 hours later.”

The liquor retailer added: “Our free home delivery service has ceased, and we will no longer be taking orders or delivering. We are, and always have been, in complete co-operation with the law. Our stores have remained closed since March 20, and we will not be fulfilling delivery orders no matter when you placed them.”

Anthony Ferguson, the Police Commissioner, said officers were sent to Jimmy’s Wines and Spirits yesterday to shut the home delivery service down. He argued that it would also have breached the company’s liquor licence, as this did not permit it to sell alcohol anywhere off its premises.

Mr Sands made no mention of this, but said the Government’s u-turn will have a “huge” impact for Jimmy’s Wines and Spirits. He added: “This was a big undertaking in getting the proper team we needed to do this and thinking about their safety.

“This is a service we don’t normally offer, and to undertake this project was not as easy as one thinks it would be. It takes a lot behind the scenes to make this type of thing happen. It’s a huge disappointment. It’s a huge impact on us in terms of revenues.

“We still have about 150 persons we want to pay, and by not having one single dollar coming through for revenue puts us in a huge financial situation like other liquor distributors. It’s huge. We’re dead in the water. Big time,” Mr Sands continued.

“We just had Dorian in Freeport, so we were right in the middle of rebuilding the Brewery and have no product to sell in terms of local brands, and then this [COVID-19] happens to us.”

Mr Sands bemoaned the fact that the Government had not given Bahamians time to stock up on their home supplies of beer, wine and spirits prior to enforcing the nationwide lockdown, arguing that these items were “essential” to making time at home a little more bearable for many.

“We understand the seriousness of the situation. It’s uncharted waters for everyone, but to do things in a safe manner and give people safe access to beer, wines and spirits is essential,” he argued. “You can’t just stop it overnight and be OK with that.

“It’s not food and water, is not life and death, but helps persons you have trapped in their homes for 24 hours, which is necessary given what is going on around the world.” Mr Sands added that the lockdown had resulted in Jimmy’s Wines and Spirits having “a lot of inventory tied up that we are unable to move”.

Tribune Business yesterday obtained evidence of inconsistencies in how the Government is treating other sectors that have sought to be categorised as “essential services”, especially the money transmission services providers.

While Sun Cash, the Western Union franchise holder, sent out e-mail advertising confirming all its locations were open, one of its rivals confirmed they and the wider sector were still seeking the Government’s permission to do the same.

A Sun Cash spokesman confirmed the Government had given it permission to open on Wednesday afternoon after making the case that it was an “essential” service on many Family Islands when it came to providing residents with access to their money and conducting financial transactions.

“Once we got the decision from the Government we immediately opened up and got all our systems at Sun Cash and Western Union back online,” the spokesman said. “We’re in places like Inagua, Crooked Island, Black Point, and people are screaming for their money. The banks were never there, and we’re the only money transmission business in those areas.

“We do what the banks never did, which is serve all the islands of The Bahamas. Through our platform, you can send money to anyone, anywhere in the country using a mobile phone. We had a lot of pent-up demand when we opened and it has been really extraordinary. People need access to their money. That’s really the long and short of it.”

The Sun Cash spokesman added: “The same way you or I, 9am to 5pm, can walk to an automated teller machine (ATM) or walk to the bank in Nassau and Freeport, and get our money, they have the same exact needs on these islands. We see our network as providing the electronic infrastructure for them to have their needs taken care of.

“That’s our mandate as a financial institution, always has and always will be, to provide service. Getting money to people electronically is the issue for us.”

However, Harvey Morris, Omni Financial Services chief executive, and a Sun Cash competitor, said he was still “fighting” for money transmission businesses to be treated as “essential” services and allowed to open up during the lockdown.

“We’ve requested it,” he added, confirming that his locations were closed and he was unaware of Sun Cash’s approval to open. “It’s something we’ve been having discussions with the Central Bank on. We’ve been going over this with them, and are of the opinion we should be exempt.”

A draft Ministry of Finance document seen by Tribune Business, which listed 46 industries and companies seeking to be categorised as “essential”, appeared to agree that money transmission businesses - like the banks and credit unions - should be treated as such, and allowed to open standalone sites and locations in other open businesses such as food stores between 9am to 5pm.

That has yet to happen. Meanwhile, F.Y.P and Builders Mall, in a message to customers yesterday that was seen by Tribune Business, also said it had been given permission to open for delivery and pick up orders just days after the construction industry and hardware/home improvements retailers had been told to shut down.

“We are open,” it said. “FY.P. has been granted approval by the Royal Bahamian Police Force COVID-19 Task Force to operate. For the health and safety for everyone, we will be doing delivery and pick-up order only.

“We welcome your phone calls, What’s Apps and e-mails. We will be operating from noon until 5pm today and 9am to 5pm moving forward. Please note that customers will not be permitted into the store to minimise interactions and maintain social distancing. We ask that all customers stay in their vehicle for all pick up orders.

“We are following all Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidelines for a retail store operation as guided by the Bahamian Government in their initiatives to halt the fast spreading coronavirus (COVID-19).”

Comments

tetelestai 2 months, 1 week ago

Neil Hartnell and his lets throw everything in the paper and hope it sticks reporting. I would call need an amateur, forst year journalism school reporter, but that would be an insult to the first year reporters. Man, Neil you are awful. No surprise, though, that The Tribune employs him. He is, after all, of good colour.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 2 months, 1 week ago

Both Duane Sands and Hubert Minnis as medical doctors know full well that many alcoholics who are made to go cold turkey are likely to develope a very serious medical condition that can result in death if left untreated. Anthony Ferguson probably doesn't know this given that he has proven himself to be nothing but a very daft and dense brute over and over again.

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bahamian242 2 months, 1 week ago

Carl and Romie will be the first....

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moncurcool 2 months, 1 week ago

Really? Can you please name the medical condition they will develop from not drinking alcohol that will cause them to die for us non medical doctor folk? That they save themselves from damage to their liver? Inebriated persons will no longer physically abuse their spouses?

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birdiestrachan 2 months, 1 week ago

I like Neil a lot. he does his best to be objective. Put me on the list of those who love Neil.

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DDK 2 months, 1 week ago

Sorry for the turnaround to Sands, but so typical of Bahamas Government. I I wonder how the M.P. 's and Civil Servants expect to be paid while the private sector does without.

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joeblow 2 months, 1 week ago

…. meanwhile I ordered a supply of my favorite libation from south florida and had them brought in by courier, since commercial flights are still allowed!

It only seems reasonable that businesses with a product that can be delivered should be allowed to do so with strict guidelines to reduce transmission of the virus! This also allows the gov't to generate much needed VAT revenue or can't they see that?

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Economist 2 months, 1 week ago

It is because that dumb Commissioner of Police is incapable of enforcing the law on law breakers and makes everyone pay for one of two bad apples. Better not get caught speeding because he will get the PM to ban cars.

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BONEFISH 2 months, 1 week ago

The lack of innovation and competition is common here among the business community. Juan McCartney spoke about that today on his talk show, He said one of the things you see during this coranavirus pandemic is that a lot of businesses here have not innovated.

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ThisIsOurs 2 months, 1 week ago

Dont drink the koolaid @bonefish. There is no lack of innovation here. Every single suggestion McCartney gave has already been proposed, for years. When I see some of the people now talking about digitizing and how they're going to lead the charge to get Bahamians going, it's almost unbelievable. They're the very persons who would have rejected, tried to slow down or outright laughed at before their time ideas. Take Wayne Johnson's digital dollar 10 years ago example. Johnson said he could not find a job. That is what they did with innovation pre COVID-19, they sidelined it. Only maid, butler or unemployment is good enough for you

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BONEFISH 2 months, 1 week ago

Don't let any body fool you.The Bahamas is not a progressive,innovative country.A Nassau Guardian reporter said on talk radio,he visited Jamaica.Jamaica was in his opinion ,a more progressive country when it came to doing business. The Bahamas has made it primarily due to it's being near to the US and the American's economic embargo of Cuba due to the communist take over of that island in 1959.

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ThisIsOurs 2 months ago

ok I think we're talking about two sides of the coin. Youre talking about where the country is. Im saying the country is where you say it is but its not because we dont have innovators, its because innovation is deliberately suppressed by the system. And that includes all kinds of influential persons, people who dont offer the simplest assistance if you dont give them 10%, people who put spokes in the wheel because "you" cant get it, people who see the potential and run away with your proposal and on and on

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sheeprunner12 2 months, 1 week ago

This Covid19 dilemma is a Catch22 problem for any country ……… If we have a 24 hour lockdown/curfew and close 90% of businesses without the requisite social services support to assist the 60% of our financially vulnerable population, we will face a national economic collapse …….. and if we leave everything open, then we may face a potential health crisis that our public and private health services and medical supplies reserves cannot handle.

How do we balance this between economic collapse vs health crisis????? ….. Do we risk everyone getting infected and testing for the true infection rate and still allow for economic activity and jobs once they practice responsible public protocols??? Are we socially disciplined enough for that???

TAKE YOUR PICK

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DWW 2 months, 1 week ago

92% are financially vulnerable

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Eve 2 months, 1 week ago

There is nothing safer than home delivery. I can pay for the supplies online with no contact. When they arrive I can open my gate and stand 6 feet away while they are brought in. No contact. Heavy drinkers will have symptoms of alcohol withdrawal within days and can die in 4. Does the government want all those people flooding the hospital? As well the government is depriving people of earning a living and depriving themselves of VAT money.

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themessenger 2 months, 1 week ago

COP Ferguson is one dodo, Jimmies is selling the liquor from their premises, it’s the delivery that takes place off premises. Same thing a bar does when they need booze, pick up the phone call in the order, pay by credit card and have it delivered.

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DWW 2 months, 1 week ago

this country is going to crash and burn while we all watch and cheer

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DWW 2 months, 1 week ago

correction the whole world is burning while we cheer it on.

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