BUSINESS operators in New Kingston have said that the losses they incurred as a result of the security precautions that were taken for the visit of United States President Barack Obama were not insignificant, but understandable.
However, a common concern among those who spoke with the Jamaica Observer on Friday was the lack of clear and timely information from the authorities, and the uncertainty that resulted.
Manager of Woolworth, New Kingston Shopping Mall, Donna Wanliss said that the store saw a drop in sales of about 75 per cent over the two days when access was restricted to roads in and around New Kingston. She noted that on average, the establishment sees approximately 700 transactions per day.
Wanliss noted however, that the visit may have served Jamaica well. “I don’t mind that he came. I think that we probably went a little bit overboard, because our house should be in order at all times, so that when our guests come we don’t have to do a major clean-up. But businesswise it’s a sacrifice that I think we can afford to make for the office that the gentleman holds… I would like that if our Prime minister would get the same kind of treatment, so in that way, I don’t object,” she said.
“I don’t think we got enough information in time, but then again, due to security, you can’t give too much information long before. We have to be practical. They had to have this high-level security. It’s inconvenient, but I understand,” Wanliss added.
At Express Fitness a few doors down, the majority of members who drive had to give up their workouts due to the road closure, and others were not allowed pedestrian access to the facility.
“We have a lot of persons, who once they finish work, they walk over and exercise, (but) they were not able to come, because (for instance) Sagicor was closed, so they wouldn’t be at work. But it did affect us. It was really quiet, we had to close early, and we were told they would not have access,” said manager, Loflin Jackson.
He said that on Wednesday the 24-hour gym closed at 3:00 am after the property managers, got wind of the restrictions.
Now, members want to be given back the day or two that were lost, but it is not a simple matter, Jackson explained.
“We have a few different packages… some are prepaid. In some instances, I can give them back (the day), depending on their membership, but for others I don’t have any jurisdiction to do so, they would have to go through customer care. In the peak hours, which is from about 4:30 to about 9:00…and on that day, when he (President Obama) was to land, we had maybe three persons, and they left early,” he said.
Jackson said that new membership sign-ups and payments were also affected, as persons were unable to come in.
He is of the view that the scurry to beautify sections of the Corporate Area may have been an overkill.
“There is a project across from the White House, so he (Obama) knows poverty – it’s an eyesore to DC, so it’s not like he doesn’t know poverty is alive and well here. There was no need to pretty it up,” Jackson argued.
Still, he feels that the visit was positive for Jamaica, and is hopeful that the commitment that Obama made to provide assistance to youth in the region would be realised.
Station manager at Knutsford Express’s Kingston office, Britt Mitchell said that passenger load was cut almost in half on Thursday, because while the company had its coaches ready and maintained its departure times, many passengers could not get to the Dominica Drive location on time. “That impacted the number of passengers who would usually travel on a Thursday, which is usually our busiest day,” she said.
Business at Docutech Limited, on Thursday, when the Obama visit was at its height, was “almost non-existent, about two or three people came in”, the manager, who wished only to be named as Gary, told the Sunday Observer. He estimated that only five per cent of the usual number of customers came in to do business at the centre, which provides services such as photocopying, printing, and graphics.
On Thursday, however, activities picked up to about 70 per cent, but Gary said that people were confused, and that led to persons staying away, even after 10:30 am, when the restrictions were eased. “If people had known that things would return to normal at that time, it would have been different. It wasn’t communicated properly,” he said.
The exact benefits of the visit, he said, are left to be seen, but “overall, it was good. I think it was worth it”.
Supervisor at Sangster’s Book Stores Limited Jacinth Williams said that the store closed early on Wednesday and did not open on Thursday, undoubtedly resulting in some loss. But she was still pleased with the visit.
“I am elated that he came, and I believe that it is going to have a great impact on growth and the economy,” she said.
A representative at New Knutsford Pharmacy said the pharmacy usually has many customers throughout the week, but that fewer than half of the usual numbers showed over the two days.
“Of course we lost out,” one of the proprietors at Tao Chinese Restaurant said, stating that there too, an estimated half the usual crowd came in, and that the restaurant opened late on Thursday, and closed early.
She said she was not sure how to gauge whether the visit of the 44th president of the US was worth what had to be given up.
“It was good for Jamaica, yes,” she said.
The impact was not lost on street vendors, who can be seen at certain points in the business hub eking out a living on any given day of the week.
Paul Brown, who sells alcoholic drinks and other beverages and snacks on Knutsford Boulevard, said the two days also dug deep into his pocket, but “a Obama still, so we just have to just work with it”.
Last Tuesday, President of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (William Mahfood) said that if the visit brought economic benefits, then the sacrifices asked of businesses would have been worthwhile.