AUTHORITIES IN ST GEORGE’S this week sought to crackdown on sidewalk vending, initiating a zero-tolerance policy for anyone setting up shop and blocking pedestrian access.
Police led by Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Linford Kingston of the Traffic Department on Tuesday moved on vendors across the city and while most stayed off the sidewalks there were pockets of resistance.
The Ministry of Works, which is responsible for Markets, was in the process of erecting tents so that vendors selling clothing, food and other items could be out of the sun in the open market square.
But vendors are not pleased about this, concerned that they are being forced back into a market which they consider to be unsafe because of regular violence.
“The market is not safe for shoppers, it’s not safe for vendors,” said one vendor who has reluctantly retreated to the confines of the St George’s Market.
The woman, who did not want to be named for security reasons said, “there is a lot of activity that takes place in the market and most of the time it happens there is no police presence”.
“So, you running the vendors from the streets but that is the only place they can make a safe dollar”, she added.
The vendor who rents space within the market but also maintains a sidewalk stall, said, “I know we not supposed to be on the street but it is the only place where you don’t have cutlass and bottle coming at you.”
Vending outside of prescribed zones is prohibited by law.
But more and more people have turned to vending in response to scarcity of jobs while those who traditionally occupied the Market Square have encroached onto the roadways and sidewalks.
Market vendors in recent years, have taken to setting up shops away from their prescribed area hoping to attract more business.
Established businesses have suffered disruptions with their entryways overtaken by trays and tables offering all manner of things for sale.
One manager complained that vendors go as far as to set up shop in the doorway of his business.
When this matter was raised with the police, the response was that their hands are tied and they have been instructed from, “high-up” to leave the vendors alone.
Sources say the Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) government has been facing increasing pressure from affected businesses to do something about the vending problem.
Inspector Trevor Rodney of the Community Relations Department of the Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF) said the challenge now is to maintain the situation.
Sidewalk vending has caused so much congestion in St George’s that pedestrians regularly have to abandon the sidewalks and take their chances in the traffic.
Insp. Rodney said Hillsborough Street will still remain closed to vehicle traffic each Friday, to accommodate vendors who do not have booths in the St George’s market.
The street vendors were relocated from Melville Street and other areas around the town where they had been operating for the last few years with special permission from government in some cases.
The authorities have appeared at a loss to find a permanent solution for accommodating itinerant vending in the Capital.
Those who are being ushered off the streets say they do not believe the authorities are ready to properly accommodate them in the Market Square.
Vendor Michael Baptiste who spoke with a local reporter soon after he received a visit at his stall complained that he had lost over fifteen hundred dollars in revenue as a result of the police operation which interrupted business for the last few days.
Baptiste said Tuesday he was planning to resist police efforts to move him from an area just outside the bus terminus.
The lack of adequate vending zones in St George’s has been a problem for decades and an effective solution has eluded governments for as long.
Vendors who have occupied what is considered to be private property are negotiating to be allowed to stay put.
However, Insp. Rodney said there is no private pavement in law at it relates to sidewalks.
Rodney said the police are acting to end an illegal act that has been tolerated for a long time but which is now, “out of hand”.
Several vendors agree that the situation needs to be remedied and blame government for not supporting their efforts to create their own employment.
The crackdown comes just weeks before the Winter Cruise Season opens and a source said the timing also has to do with a desire to clear the congestion before tourists begin arriving.