Tobago discount store owner starts legal action against police

Story by DEREK ACHONG

Image courtesy Miles Almandoz and Company Limited

The owner of a popular wholesale and discount store in Tobago has written to National Security Minister Stuart Young over being threatened by police to close his business under ongoing COVID-19 regulations.

Lawyers representing Phillip Almandoz, the managing director of Miles Almandoz and Company Limited, of Wilson Road in Scarborough, made the complaint in a pre-action protocol letter sent to Young, earlier this morning.

“We are writing to you as line Minister with authority over the TTPS so that they may cease and desist from their planned quixotic pursuit of this intention to close down our client’s business,” attorney Martin George said in the letter.

George called for a speedy response as he noted that his client services a large number of Tobagoians.

“We wish to point out the urgency of this matter with this being a long weekend and with it also being the Easter weekend, it is a particularly special time for Tobagonians, who will need their essential supplies from our client’s business, notwithstanding the stringent circumstances at present,” George said.

George said that his client decided to take the action after he (Almandoz) was contacted by police on Thursday and advised to shut down his business while the public health regulations stay in force at least until April 30.

In the letter, George noted that Almandoz’s business, which holds a Spirit Grocer’s Licence, is a major distributor of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, household and cleaning products.

However, he noted that a large segment of the business deals with the supply of non-alcoholic drinks to numerous groceries, mini-marts and corner stores across the island.

While George acknowledged that Young had stated that “liquor marts” are not to be considered essential businesses under the regulations, he noted that his client’s business could not be classified as such.

“In light of same, Miles Almandoz and Company Limited has remained operational and intends, respectfully, to continue to remain operational, and the establishment continues to make extensive efforts to meet the increased demand for basic goods, by supplying consumers on a daily basis with essential commodities and by applying the necessary measures of social distancing and stringent Health and Safety practices for staff and customers alike,” George said.

George claimed that the business was especially important to Tobagonians as they do not have access to large wholesale shopping widely available in Trinidad. 

“Tobagonians would, therefore, feel particularly hard-done-by and discriminated against, if between now and the end of the month, they were deprived of their one “discount store” outlet supplying them with the items listed above, in bulk and at wholesale volumes and wholesale prices, as their “wholesale store” for stocking their mini-marts, supermarkets, corner shops, and their homes,” George said.

He also claimed that the closure would affect the Tobago economy as the business employs a large number of people.

George warned that if the police officers continued with the plan, they would be acting illegally, and he would have to file a lawsuit seeking compensation for their action and over any loss in business his client incurs during that period.

While George noted that he was seeking Young’s intervention, he copied Police Commissioner Gary Griffith on the letter so that he could weigh in and advise his officers accordingly.

George had not received a response, up to a short while ago.

The action taken by the company comes days after Goutam Singh, of Singh’s Liquor Mart located along Bournes Road in St James, filed a lawsuit and an injunction application after he was forced to close his business this week.

In his court filings, Singh’s lawyers have contended that while the regulations prevent holders of a spirit retailer licence, wine retailer licence, restaurant licence or wine merchant’s licence from opening their premises for the duration of the regulations, it does not cover holders of a spirit grocer’s licence such as Singh.

When the lawsuit came up for hearing before Justice Kevin Ramcharan via video conferencing, on Thursday, State attorneys asked for time to respond to it.

The case is scheduled to come up for hearing, early next week.