THE recent uproar by the membership of the Castries Vendors Arcade that the monthly rental of booths would increase from $120 to $138 this month will obviously make the Castries Constituency Council (CCC) look like a dinosaur trying to eat a housefly.
However, that is not necessarily the case.
Over the years, the city has virtually become a cesspool for everything from stray dogs to rats and cockroaches. Add to the mix the dilapidated state of some of the narrow sidewalks that some vendors and pedestrians have to compete for.
Understandably, the arcade vendors do have some legitimate reasons why the hike might set them back a few dollars. Years of unmet promises by the CCC has seen the arcade fall deeper into disrepair, begging one to ask the question as to when – not if – the area will finally be transformed into a real revenue generator.
In October, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet described the city circuit as “a negative earner”and that “it’s probably costing the government more money to keep Castries open than Castries itself is generating.” In any city, the expectation is that business is supposed to flourish and government receives taxes.
Then why does it seem that Castries is under-performing?
While successive governments have given their commitment to changing the declining status quo of the city, much of that commitment has redounded to being just lip service. Granted that some inroads have been made over the years to ameliorate the poor state of the city, lack of finances and political will have plagued those efforts. That situation is amplified by the fact that vendors owe the CCC in excess of $500,000 in arrears.
The Arcade vendors’ concerns, therefore, is part of a larger construct that forces one to question whether such an invaluable piece of real estate should be left to remain unprofitable. Ever since coming into being in the mid-1990s, the Vendors Arcade has become a perennial cliché for bad business. Cruise ships or not, the lament seems to be the same: the tourists are not spending.
It might seem a tough sell to get Arcade vendors to pay their dues to the city. However, every sector of the economy is feeling the pinch. Despite this, funding for the improvement of the city should not only come from taxpayers’ pockets. Vendors need to pay their dues.
Vendors must also come up with more creative ways of generating income, including but not limited to, recognizing that there are other tenants in the city who seem to keep their heads above water despite business ostensibly being not up to par. What they must not do, however, is describe themselves as poor people who would never get rich from what they are doing.