Merchants brace for downturn in sales, traffic

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Just over a week after COVID-19 reportedly entered Barbados, the novel coronavirus has all but crippled business in the island’s capital forcing major operators to take drastic action to cope with a looming economic downturn.

Workers at major outlets including Abeds, Woolworth and Cave Shepherd have already been served notice of a reduced workweek as management hunker down to ride out the blow to their bottom line.

Eddy Abed, Managing Director of Abeds told Barbados TODAY: “I can honestly say that both of our stores, both the one in Town and Sheraton Mall have been experiencing a severe fall off in sales which is to be expected and frankly what we are trying to do is to keep all of our staff on.

“We don’t necessarily track it by days but I can tell you we have been comparing sales and we are below 50 per cent for last week as compared to last year and that is just not sustainable.

Eddy Abed
Immediate past-president of the BCCI Eddy Abed

“We are losing now and the big picture now is to keep those who are most vulnerable in our organization employed but it just cannot continue.”

On an almost bare Prince William Henry Street, Woolworth was devoid of shoppers and Managing Director Martin Bryan painted an equally grim picture of dwindling sales.

He said: “We have seen a drastic reduction in sales from last week Friday and into this week. Our revenues dropped off significantly and this is all to do with COVID-19.

“We are not into food retail, if you look at where people are shopping it is pretty much supermarkets and pharmacies.

“Our toiletries department has been doing quite well, but that is a small portion of business– like your pain killers, your (paracetamol), your Vitamin C—in fact we don’t have anything on the shelf right now, But we have seen a drastic, drastic drop off in business.”

Martin Bryan
Martin Bryan

Across on Broad Street, the usual hustle and bustle of tourists peeking at duty free goods offered at Cave Shepherd was noticeably absent and Executive Director Richard Simpson told Barbados TODAY that with few tourists coming in light of the cancellation of flights and cruises, sales were down but the store was holding its own because of local patronage.

Simpson told Barbados TODAY:  “More than half of our business is tourist related and with all that has happened that is basically very small at the moment but we are still having a very small element of local business at the moment.”

But the three main Bridgetown stores said they are not comtemplating layoffs for the time being, instead opting to cut working hours for staff.

“We have cut back our hours in Bridgetown and Sheraton, we are running shorter days but long enough to keep staff employed,” Abed said.

Starting next week, Woolworth’s staff will be working a four-day work week and if the situation continues to deteriorate that could change to a three-day work week,

Bryan said: “We have talked to the workers’ representatives already so our staff hours will be cut by 20 per cent and by the end of the week, they might very well go down to a three day work week, right now it is definitely going to be a four-day work week starting Monday depending on the level of activity or non activity that we experience.”

Cave Shepherd is currently in the process of discussing how it will proceed .

Said Simpson: “I think that we are looking at reduced working hours at the moment that is being looked at right now and being communicated and I think some of our temporary seasonals who came on for the season would have gone off a few weeks earlier than normal.”

The business executives are hoping that the situation will turn around sooner rather than later but signalled their attention to hold strain even as they praised Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s handling of the crisis.

Away from the city’s Big Three, street vendors whose wares were on full display but with little to no customers were hesitant to speak.

Some however told Barbados TODAY that they were having a hard time and would perhaps have to seek out other opportunities to support themselves and families.
sandydeane@barbadostoday.bb

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