Craft traders feel COVID pain
In 2017, Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) spent $40 million to construct 31 shops to accommodate craft traders in Falmouth. After much disagreement on the sizes of the stalls and the rental costs, the traders moved in and started to sell their items. They had not expected to have their livelihood disappear as quickly as it did when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Joy Laech, one of the traders, now wonders how she has survived this long without an income.
"When we closed I never thought we would be out this long. I know now how to turn my hand mek fashion. I have tried everything to make a living, and I am on the brink of going crazy," Laech said.
A 25-year veteran in the craft business, Laech, unfortunately, did not benefit from the government's COVID-19 Allocation of Resources for Employees Programme. The temporary cash-transfer programme to individuals and businesses was implemented at a cost of $10 billion. Some 435,000 Jamaicans reportedly benefited from the programme up to December last year. Another $300,000 is yet to be collected.
Under the programme, a one-time amount of $40,000 was given to craft vendors, but Laech and others say getting the money was like jumping through hoops.
"There was always something else needed when you applied. When you would have supplied all the request (required data), you are then told you had to be registered with Tourism Development Company Limited. You comply and are told it had to be a group registration and not individually. It was total frustration, so I gave up," she told THE STAR.
Another craft vendor, Walford 'Shorty' Forbes, who sold craft for more than 20 years, has been forced to find another way to earn a living since the closure of the craft market on Seaboard Street.
"I am a painter and steel man. It is a good thing I had this to fall back on or mi wouda dead," Forbes said.
"Di govament promise some care package. My get a two bills one time, but nutten more. So the talk 'bout $300,000, dat a just talk. Mi nuh know nobody who get," Forbes, a beneficiary, said.
He is happy that the PAJ is not asking for any rent for their space in the craft market.
"Mi glad 'bout dat an hope dat ship wi soon start come back. It didn't mek me rich, but it put food on my table," Forbes said.
Audrey Smith has continued to make craft items since the shutdown.
"I use it as a time to rest. I have contacts outside of the tourists. From time to time I get to sell some of the items I make, not like I was in the market, but it is better than nothing," she said.
Smith, like her colleagues, did not benefit from the COVID-19 grant.
Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett recently told Parliament that Jamaica was seeing "a glimmer of hope" in cruise shipping, despite a pandemic-induced standstill in the global cruise industry.