By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A 74 year-old Bahamian retailer that has remained in the same family for three generations yesterday confirmed it plans to close in the New Year once all existing inventory is sold-off.
Bruce Raine told Tribune Business that the devastation inflicted by COVID-19, with the total shutdown of the cruise industry, had given himself and his family little choice but to permanently close the Bay Street-based The Linen Shop.
Warning that more retail businesses, both in downtown Nassau and elsewhere, will likely "follow" the fate of his family's operation, Mr Raine said the pandemic had accelerated and worsened a declining sales trend that had started more than a decade ago.
Arguing that there was also a lack of interest in Bay Street's pre-COVID problems, especially from the Government, he added that it would likely be three-four months into 2021 before the retailer - which was founded in 1946 just after the Second World War - closes its doors for good.
"I think we might have struggled on, but Bay Street is really a cruise ship location, and they're the only customers we have," Mr Raine told this newspaper. "They may not be coming back until 2022. We cannot stay on with all that. When you go from 7.2m tourists to nothing it's pretty crazy. It's not going to get better.
"The hotels are going to keep their guests on-site, on-property, so they're not going to come downtown, and there's nowhere for local people to park. We're kind of dead in the water.
"We're having a big sale to sell down all the stock we had from March when we had to close down. We have a lot of inventory we have to sell. It will be three to four months into the New Year before we're able to wind-up all the stock. We cannot throw it in the harbour. It's going to take a while. We don't want to write it off."
The Linen Shop has its heritage in fine linens, before it expanded into gifts and housewares. Retail, together with the tourism, hospitality and entertainment sectors, has been especially hard-hit by the COVID-19 induced downturn, and Mr Raine warned that his family's business will not be the last to shutter permanently.
"I think it is only the beginning. There will be more to follow," he told Tribune Business. "We've seen it coming for most of this year, but even before that. There had been a steady decline in sales.
"The sales have been declining over the years. The quality of tourist we get now, on the pre-booked cruises, is nothing like the old days when people came off the boat with money in their pockets and spent it.
"For the last several years, people have been coming in, walking around the store and going back out. Then another crowd comes in and walks back out. It's been declining for ten years at least."
Mr Raine acknowledged that the closure would be an emotional wrench for his family and The Linen Shop's five staff as they currently supervise a '50 percent off' storewide sale. He revealed that the business had been started by his grandmother before being handed down to his mother, and it was his wife and sister now managing it.
He urged the Government to implement time-restricted parking in downtown Nassau so that spaces were regularly made available for local customers. Mr Raine said that, at present, in the absence of taxis and tourist traffic, government workers were parking on Bay Street for the entire day.