IN A SMALL country like ours, the majority of services and business transactions either take place in, or revolve around the capital city Kingstown or recently, the rapidly developing business centre at Arnos Vale.
Where people gather in large numbers, street vendors will also be found, many providing useful service, albeit disorganized, and this is the case both in Kingstown and increasingly at Arnos Vale.
But over the years, street vendors have regularly come into conflict with government authorities and the formal business sector over issues such as the crowding of roadways, sidewalks and doorways; public health violations; the general appearance of public spaces, and illegal occupation.
Last week, the plight of a group of vendors based near the Arnos Vale bridge came to the fore, they having been given seven days’ notice to vacate the area to allow for improvements in road access to The Joshua Centre.
Conflicts like these are not uncommon, and a look through the archives of our newspaper would reveal that several well-publicized attempts over the years to organize, relocate, move or regulate roadside vendors have yielded little success. Just over one year ago, in July 2020, the vendors who operate outside Massy supermarket at Arnos Vale were given one week to remove their structures or have them demolished.
The vendors and the structures are still in place.
In that instance, it was never made public what prompted the authorities to initiate action. We never heard why they backed off either. The deadline given to the vendors at the Arnos Vale bridge was September 21, 2021, but when we checked yesterday, except for one setup, everyone else was still in place.
This same saga has played out in Kingstown on numerous occasions and except in a few instances, lofty aims have come to nought in the face of both objective difficulties as well as subjective resistance and undermining.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added another layer to the challenges. How does one achieve social distancing in a small town like Kingstown, where with the rapid growth of vending, space is a much-desired but hard to achieve goal?
This brings us to the ‘Uptown Vendors’ Market’ announced by government in July 2020. Situated in the former Customs Warehouse on Upper Bay Street, the market reportedly consists of 99 stalls for vendors, temporary storage space, administrative offices, washrooms, and a garbage disposal section.
The Uptown Vendors’ Market was hailed as the first of three such markets the Government was aiming to officially open by August 2020 in a push to relocate 260 street vendors and bring a solution to the overcrowding of our sidewalks.
But to date, not only have the promised projects not been opened, but the congestion in Kingstown and at Arnos Vale is even worse, when the mantra is more “social distancing”.
While it is true that unfortunate developments like the COVID-19 pandemic and the volcanic eruption have occupied our attention since, the recent notices served on the vendors at Arnos Vale have reminded us of the previous notices to vacate and associated threats of demolition; announcements of the opening of vendors’ markets; and other plans relating to this sector, very few of which have borne fruit.
What exactly do we have in mind for our vendors?
Clearly the status quo cannot continue indefinitely, and neither is the uncertainty of their status healthy for the vendors concerned. It is only reasonable that the public, including those directly affected get an update as to what is the plan for this sector.