By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Super Value’s principal yesterday said the supermarket chain plans to “test the waters” with 8pm closings after the nightly curfew was eased but voiced scepticism the move would increase sales.
Rupert Roberts told Tribune Business that many shoppers lacked funds to spend due to COVID-19 related job losses, furloughs and salary cuts as he confirmed the 13-store chain has already pushed its evening closing back by one hour in response to the new administration’s move.
Speaking after newly-elected prime minister, Philip Davis QC, in his first act pushed the nightly curfew’s start back three hours, the Super Value chief also voiced concern that the new 11.59pm start may produce an increase in crime with persons able to move about much easier at night.
“Last night, we went until 8pm. We’re going to try 8pm closing,” Mr Roberts confirmed. “We saw the increase in crime when the curfew went to midnight. The rate of crime increased. We’re going to go to 8pm, and see if they shop after dark. We’re going to test the waters and see.
“We’re moving into the crime season when supermarkets get held up during the weeks leading to Christmas. We’ll be closing at just about right after dark, and will get staff and keep safe. We’ve got the economy with the COVID-19, which will drive sales down.”
Mr Roberts did not identify specific incidents of crime that had occurred after the curfew’s start was pushed back from 9pm to 12pm on Andros, Abaco, Bimini, Cat Island, Eleuthera, Grand Bahama, Exuma and New Providence, although it was widely reported that one person was killed and two injured following shootings and stabbings on Grand Bahama.
Mr Davis justified the curfew’s push back when speaking after he received his instruments of appointment on Saturday, arguing that there was “no rhyme or reason” for it to have been set at 9pm by the Minnis administration.
He also voiced scepticism about the effectiveness of curfews in mitigating COVID-19’s spread, saying: “Curfews on the face of it, from the medical information that we have, are not a tool that is effective against the fight...” Another 100 new COVID-19 cases were detected on Friday, outstripping the 11 recoveries recorded for that day and leaving 1,781 active cases along with 510 deaths from the virus.
Mr Roberts, meanwhile, indicated that he did not expect Super Value’s extended closing hours to produce any increase in sales. He said: “I believe people were getting their shopping in during the hours that we were open. We may pick up some stragglers, and it will be more convenient for the consumer.
“They were having to rush to do what they needed to do and get their shopping in on time for the 7pm close. But we can’t expect to be compensated with more sales because of more hours as people don’t have the money. Those people that are employed still have their income; the others must be shopping with their savings. We cannot expect any increase there. We’re just hanging in and seeing what happens.”
Chris Mortimer, Galleria Cinemas’ principal, told Tribune Business that while the curfew extension is “helpful” it will not be a panacea or cure-all for the problems inflicted on the theatre business by COVID-19. Besides the ongoing 30 percent cinema occupancy limit, he added that the quality of movies released by the studios during the pandemic “hasn’t been great”.
“I think like most businesses it provides an opportunity to try and derive some more income, and from that standpoint I think it’s a net positive,” Mr Mortimer said. “We’ve adjusted our schedule to open later as well. Our last set of showings will be around 8pm.”
That deadline had previously been 6pm, meaning the curfew pushback has enabled Galleria Cinemas to regain one of its film showing times. However, he explained that ongoing COVID restrictions on cinema audience size and movie quality would offset some of this benefit.
“It’s helpful, but there are a number of things beyond extension of time that it would take for theatres to be successful,” Mr Mortimer said. “The emergency orders with respect to capacity reduction are still in play, which limits the amount of people you can bring in.
“I doubt it’s going to require bringing back all our staff. It’s just not three yet. I don’t know what those particular numbers are. I don’t deal with staffing. Right now there are still people that are furloughed, and once the opportunity provides itself I’m sure management will bring them back in line with the amount of revenue coming back as a result of extension of the hours.”
Mr Mortimer added that while “the ability to accrue a few additional hours” is beneficial to all night-time businesses, they have to be careful it does not result in incurring extra costs that exceed the revenue gained as a result.
“I, like most businesses, am appreciative that we are able to go a bit longer to try and earn more revenues, but like all businesses we must be mindful of the cost of additional hours, so that the cost of deriving additional revenues given to us by a later curfew is a net positive for the business,” he explained.
“Sometimes it can be a net negative. Like most businesses we’re happy to have the opportunity to see how best it works.”