RADHICA DE SILVA
Despite the government’s restrictions, several bar owners in South Trinidad are continuing to surreptitiously sell alcohol to customers during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Unable to cope with the loss of income, some bar owners have opened food outlets near their establishments while others have been selling drinks behind closed doors.
Police have already clamped down on some errant bar owners but now that the lockdown is going into the seventh week, bar owners are calling on the government to make special provisions to assist them.
During an interview with Guardian Media, Jenny Harrilal, the owner of Jenny’s Bar said she could not blame some bar owners for the opening surreptitiously because life has become very difficult.
“It has been very bad. I am not renting. It’s my own place but I have two Venezuelans working and the Chinese doing a roulette and we have a Playwhe booth. All five had to be sent home,” she said.
Asked if she knew of bar owners selling quietly behind the counter, Harrilal said, “They have their bills to pay and if they hide and do it, I wouldn’t vex. They have to live,” Harrilal said.
Despite her total loss of income, Harrilal said her expenses have remained the same.
“I have all my bills to pay. My phone will get disconnected if I don’t pay in the next five days. I am using money from my savings now. I am trying to help my workers as much as I can as well,” she added.
To supplement her loss of income, Harrilal, her husband and her son Rajiv have reopened their roti-shop.
Meanwhile, in Debe, a bar owner who requested anonymity said she has had no choice but to sell alcohol from her home.
“I keep the doors closed and I allow only five people inside at a time,” she revealed. The source said she had no choice because she had children to take care of.
“It is very hard for us. I cannot cope much longer without an income. The government should make special provisions for bar owners. Let us open and sell take away,” she added.
At Club 2011, bar owner Denise Henry admitted to getting warnings from the police to desist from selling liquor. Henry said she could not afford to pay a hefty fine so she has not been selling any alcohol.
“We can’t open at all. We have our bills to pay and we have had to depend on our savings,” Henry said.
She added that she pays $10,000 per month in rent.
“I do not know if the landlord will want me to pay the full rent or half. I have been running this bar for two years and this is the most difficult period I’ve ever experienced,” she said.
She said she did not think opening the bars for take-away service made any sense.
“Its alcohol we talking about. People will want to sit down and lime when they drinking,” she added.
She explained that operating a bar during COVID was a serious violation and people should realize that bars should be reopened only when it is safe to do so.
At Dagan’s Bar in Penal, the owner said despite the COVID-19 lockdown, bar owners were making it through.
“We coping. We have to cope. We have no choice. So far we managing OK,” he said.
But Allan Deonarine, the owner of Jill’s Bar at Batchya Village, Penal said many bar owners who had to pay rents were facing a difficult time.
Like Henry, he agreed that a takeaway service will not work for bar establishments.
“People may go directly to the supermarket. If bar owners reopen now it will be too much of a risk for the bar employees and the public,” he said.
Deonarine said five employees had to be sent home after his bar was shut down on March 23.
“This is a family-owned business and we are relying on savings right now. If everyone follows the guidelines of the government, maybe bar owners will be moved up to an earlier phase rather than being closed until June,” Deonarine added.
He said he was thankful that Carib Brewery had offered to take expired products at half the cost.
Bars and casinos are unlikely to be opened before June. During his press conference last Monday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced the different phases for reopening.
While private-sector construction will reopen between June 7- 20, and malls, cinemas and beaches will be reopened in Phases 5 and 6, Rowley said the reopening of other commercial businesses other than those mentioned above, will be determined at a later date.