After two months of being closed, retail outlets across the country resumed business on Monday morning, as part of phase three of the country’s reopening.
Owners whose doors had been locked since March 30, told Guardian Media they were both pleased and relieved to be back out to work.
“It is great. After a long period home, we are happy to be out. We know it’s not going to be 100 per cent, as it was before, but we are here and we are willing to take it step-by-step,” said Cassandra, owner of the School and Office Store in St James.
“Very strange,” was how Rebecca, an employee at a popular clothing store in Port-of-Spain described her return to work.
“Well, I haven’t been here for about two-and-a-half months now. So the first day back, it’s a little strange. It’s going to be a bit different interacting with the customers,” she said.
Both employers and owners described the past eight weeks of closure as difficult.
But the opening, on Monday, offered a much-needed boost.
“We are very happy to be open. It’s good for us. It’s good for the workers. It’s good for society as well,” said the owner of US Appliances and Electronics in St James, Richard Singh.
Anticipating a slow start to business, he adopted a new strategy – drastic reduction prices, to attract more customers.
His first day back started slowly but picked up pace later on.
Admitting that business suffered during the lockdown, he said his employees felt the brunt of the impact.
During the downtime, he could only afford to pay them a stipend.
“It was very hard to tell them about what was going on. It was really hard for them. It was hard for me to tell them,” Singh lamented.
“It’s like my tummy has butterflies. You don’t really get that, but it’s a happy feeling,” said Sastri Singh, one of the store’s employees.
A renter, Sastri owes his landlady two month’s rent, for April and May.
He said he was grateful that he was able to make it through the past few weeks.
As for the social grant he applied for, that was yet to arrive, he lamented, shaking his head.
Without that assistance, he was forced to borrow money.
He anticipated that it would take close to three weeks of work to pay it back.
“It was very hard for two months because we didn’t receive any grant, which we applied for two months ago,” Sastri said.
“I’m still waiting on the grant a month and two weeks now,” said Rebecca, a clothing store employee.
Asked if she knew anyone who applied and received the grant, she replied, “Not one person. Friends, family, coworkers, nobody…not one person has told me they have received anything.”
According to Minister of Social Development and Family Services Camille Robinson-Regis, as of May 21, 15,333 grants were paid at a total cost of $21.17 million.