Help coming for Old Harbour businesses

In times of adversity, there are some who rise to the challenge to help others in need. The following is the latest in the Jamaica Observer series, COVID-19 Kindness.

“THE core of the micro economy in Old Harbour, St Catherine, is really small businesses which employ most of the people in the area… and everybody that operates a small business in that community has been impacted [by COVID-19],” says president of the Old Harbour Chamber of Commerce Adrian Samuda.

He’s speaking with the Jamaica Observer from his deserted Kaluga Kafe. The chairs are on the tables, no customers in sight even though there’s foot-tapping music playing to lure them in. Cleaning staff mill about, and one employee is having lunch on the patio that faces the heavily trafficked West Street.

With curtailed business hours a vital part of the Government’s war against the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses across the island have suffered. Old Harbour is no exception. What sets them apart, though, is an ongoing effort to help them get ready for when the economy fully reopens.

Samuda has launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise at least US$30,000, which will be distributed to 40 businesses in the area.

“Some not talking, some just keeping it inside. But if you should interview any business person right now they will tell you this is the toughest time,” says Samuda.

“We are trying to give mental support as much as we can but the only way to actually help financially was to initiate the GoFundMe campaign. We understand that the country is facing a financial problem so any way that the Old Harbour Chamber of Commerce can assist on a local level, then that’s what we will do.”

The campaign was launched on May 25 and will run for a month.

“Initially I was waiting to see what both corporate Jamaica and the Government would have done for small businesses; but then I realised it’s close to the time of reopening the country and small businesses in Old Harbour are still uncertain about their future. Frustrated and hoping for a better day,” explained Samuda. “I am aiming to distribute between $30,000 and $100,000 to 40 small businesses in Old Harbour. This money can assist with restocking or clearing backed up expenses. When I did the math US$$30,000 was ideal.”

During a recent visit to the community, it was clear that small business operators, and those who rely on them to earn a living, are in need of support. Old Harbour is powered by nightlife, which has been particularly hard hit. That has created a ripple effect that has spilled over into the entire community.

Bar owners and bartenders, vendors who sell food and cigarettes at events, the creative types who once survived by providing support to event promoters, clothing stores with party threads still in their windows, hairdressers and nail salons, all are feeling the pinch.
“Corner shops used to make some money when the [new] coronavirus just came in, but the deeper the corona gets into your pocket is the less those corner shops are making now,” said Samuda.

“So when we talk to a corner shop owner with a shop on Burke Road him say nutten nah gwaan, because the [man] who used to spend $5,000 per week, he’s spending $1,500 now. Him come buy piece a butter. [Him] stop buy quarter pound a chicken back, him a buy piece a chicken back now. It’s not a easy time.”

With so many in need, careful thought will have to be given to determine who benefits from funds raised through the campaign. There are a few basic criteria.

“We require proof of business address and a letter from a pastor or justice of the peace is important to prove that ownership of business and location. The business should employ no more than 25 members of staff,” Samuda explained.

Efforts are also being made to ensure that there is transparency throughout the entire process.

“Invitations have already been extended to four business leaders within Old Harbour to join the Go Fund Me committee, which will be established to ensure full transparency in collection and distribution of funds received,” Samuda added. The committee will also assist with selection of businesses that will benefit, to ensure there is no bias or nepotism.”

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