Vendors who still operate at the Cruise Ship Dock, January 14, 2013
Photo Credit: Clifton Skelton/BVI Platinum News
Authorities seem to be having a problem getting their hands around the vending issue in Road Town and Hon. Mark Vanterpool, Minister for Communications and Works is now concerned about a possible rebirth of 'tent city' across from the cruise pier.
The Minister has expressed concern about persons vending for years in buildings in the vicinity of the taxi stand, just outside the perimeter fence of the cruise pier.
However, vendors, who are renting the area from a private citizen, have fired back at the Minister and called on him to address other vending issues, including the 'Syrian' store owners in Road Town who place tents outside their stores to advertise their products.
In a recent interview with BVI Platinum News, Minister Vanterpool said they are disappointed that as soon as the vendors were relocated to the Crafts Alive Village, other situations popped up.
He said some persons began to vend under umbrellas, but they have since managed to address that. However, the Works Minister pointed out that the persons who have been occupying the wooden structures across from the pier for years are now placing their items outside, which is reminiscent of tent city.
"...There is a bit of a permanent situation that existed before that we honestly didn't calculate would have been so distracting, having moved the tents. The buildings which are on the opposite side of the road from where the tents were housed; the taxi stands and some other buildings have been used in the past to sell clothing and other vending items and continue to do that," the Minister stated.
Unlike the tent city vendors, authorities are not in a position to move on the vendors located opposite the road as they are said to be renting private land.
"We are investigating what all the issues are there, because we are very unhappy with the unsightliness with it. It doesn't look attractive for us as a first impression when tourists come in and we want to investigate how, what and why they are there," the Minister said.
When asked how the Government would go about addressing the problem when there are buildings erected and not tents, the Minister said he cannot comment on that at this stage as they await the outcome of the findings.
"Well I don't want to comment as yet, but we are investigating all the issues surrounding it. Do they have trade licenses to operate there? And if they do, they have a right to be there and if they are there, can they operate in a different way from how they are operating rather than having the clothing hanging all outside?" the Minister questioned.
He added, "We need to look into all that. And then as I said, we do want to investigate their permission to be there in terms of trade licenses, permission to be renting, permission for the building to be there. There is an investigation going on right now."
Ultimate Removal Of Buildings For Port Project
While the Government awaits the findings on the way forward in relation to the vendors, it appears that a decision has already been taken that the buildings will ultimately have to be removed since they do not go hand in hand with the aesthetics for the multimillion dollar cruise pier project.
"But ultimately, if we have to, in terms of the future development of the area, we certainly wouldn't allow what is there to be there...where the buildings are there it would not fit into our overall development of that area for the cruise port development. So ultimately we would want to have them remove even the buildings, I would dare to say," the Minister told BVI Platinum News.
BVI Platinum News understands that when the cruise project takes effect, the owners of the existing buildings will have preference to have vending spaces as part of the landside development.
Meanwhile, the Minister said they have also received complaints from the vendors at the Crafts Alive Village, who are of the view that the persons operating opposite the pier are taking away business from them.
"The vendors at Crafts Alive are very upset. In fact, up to [last] Tuesday a group of them met with me and have been complaining profusely from the point of view that the same thing that they are vending, these vendors have...and are distracting or taking away the possibilities of sales."
Minister Vanterpool said in essence, if someone has a right to be there, to have a store, they cannot take away that right.
"But we need to find out what is involved. What we are mostly concerned about is the way in which they are displaying their goods, which remind us of what was at the tent city and we want to discontinue that," the Minister stated.
Address 'Syrians' Too
Meanwhile, BVI Platinum News visited vendors that operate in the area yesterday, January 14 and it was clear they are not on the same page with the Works Minister.
For some, it was the first time they heard about Government being concerned and they all made it abundantly clear that the Minister should be moving to address the issue where some Syrian store owners place their items outside the store under tents, which is unsightly.
Charles Weeks, who along with his wife have been renting and vending at the taxi stand building since 1991, said he has a trade license and believes that they are well organized.
"This is the first time I am hearing about these concerns. We have everything organized," he said.
Five vendors at the location said contrary to what many believe, cruise passengers are not shopping.
BVI Platinum News spent close to two hours with the vendors and during that time, most tourists who came in had a similar line, "no, we are just looking".
"You [reporter] are here and there are three ships in and you have seen first-hand what takes place here. Look since you are here I only made $4.00. So the vendors at Crafts Alive should not have an issue because when the tourists come off the ship they walk on the sidewalk and head straight into town. Just a few come across here," said Norma, a vendor who has been renting a spot for some five years.
She said most of the items are placed inside and just a few are placed outside to attract the tourists.
"Why don't they look at the Syrians. They are taking over...They have racks out with clothes, tents out and now even music. Why are they pressuring black people. We are always pulling down each other," she stressed.
Like the others, Ms. Maduro, who has a spot at the front of the taxi stand, said they are organized and pose a threat to no one. She said she is renting the space and the style of vending is what most tourist destinations use, including Mexico and even right across the border in St. Thomas.
However, she maintained that the Government should look at the Syrians.
"Let Mark [Minister Vanterpool] come move me. I know where I live," she told BVI Platinum News.
The 'Syrians' were also accused of selling items at a very low rate, posing difficulties for others.
'Syrians' Say They Are No Threat
Clothing outside stores on Main Street
Photo Credit: BVI Platinum News
As Government and vendors try to sort out their differences, some 'Syrians', who vendors claim are affecting their sales, are not buying those concerns as legitimate.
At least three stores operated by 'Syrians' which BVI Platinum News visited, said they do not believe what they are doing is illegal and have never been approached by the authorities regarding their products being displayed outside their stores.
The owners, who asked not to be named, told BVI Platinum News that persons continue to complain about the high cost for items in the BVI and they are simply reaching the demand by lowering their prices.
One owner said they do not obstruct traffic with their outside sales, noting that they use their parking area to place the items. He said that it's not an eyesore and they do it mostly when cruise ships are docked on Tortola.
"But if it is illegal and we are asked to stop, we will abide by the law," he stated.
Another owner said it's unfortunate that the vendors have pointed them out since most of the stores do not attract the tourists who are looking for mostly jewellery, ornaments, art and crafts.
"People in general are not shopping...I would be honest with you and tell you that the only tourists that really buy from us are from Guadeloupe. They love Lacoste´, Tommy Lee and so on. So we would sell clothes like for $10.00 and so on, but can you imagine an English man coming to buy those things? No, they want jewellery and things made in the BVI," he stated.
He further related, "So we are not winning anything here. They are wrong. They look over here and say Syrians this and Syrians that, but we are affected too. Tourists are not spending; business is slow. It's a hustle and it's about having sales too."
The businessman also stated that Main Street does not have any activities and he is hopeful that the development of the old prison into a museum and other plans will become reality soon to help revitalize Main Street.