Slow business outside United States embassy

November 08, 2021
Simone Henry, popular known as Shelly, collects a phone for storage from a customer.
Simone Henry, popular known as Shelly, collects a phone for storage from a customer.

The forced reduction in consular services at the US embassy in Kingston, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has dealt a devastating blow to residents in the nearby community of Standpipe, who, for years, have made a decent living from offering allied services to customers of the embassy.

Although it continues to provide consular services, the embassy has reduced the number of applications it processes daily, as part of its measure to mitigate health risks associated with the novel coronavirus. The reduction in the level of consular services has meant an economic fallout for persons who operate small businesses across from the embassy, located in Liguanea, St Andrew.

"Things dry up now," lamented Sandra Brown, 50, who like others, earned service fees by securing customers' personal belongings such as phones, laptops, handbags. The enterprising residents, numbering nearly 50, also rent chairs, restrooms and charging ports to embassy customers.

Brown said she relied heavily on the money she made from her hustle outside the embassy. She said that she has been in the 'service business' since the embassy relocated to Liguanea, from New Kingston, 14 years ago.

"Mi deh out yah so from the embassy a build up, cause mi a one a dem weh did work pon the construction over there," she said.

Antoinette 'Lady Ann' Prince, another well-known person in the Standpipe area, yearns for the day when large numbers of people will make the trek to the US embassy. Due to the fallout in her business, she has had to pivot and find new income streams.

"Before mi did have a stall and a it me affi go back to because nutten nah gwan right now. We used to get like over 50 people a day fi deal wid, but now is like four and five people a day time," she said.

However, it appears unlikely that the embassy will be taking a flood of applications for tourist visas anytime soon. The embassy said that next available regular tourist visa appointment is in April 2023.

Simone Henry, while hopeful that a boom will return, told THE STAR that their operation is one that requires due care. She also shared some of the challenges that they experience on a daily basis whilst trying to provide service to persons who are using the embassy.

"For us, it is a challenge because we can't go over that side," she said, pointing out they are prevented from soliciting business at the side of Old Hope Road where the embassy is located.

"The police dem say wi fi stay over here so. So when me see you and call you to give me your phone, it sometimes pose a challenge because a no everybody want to come over this side," said Henry.

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