After two months of having his business shuttered because of emergency lockdown measures due to COVID-19, one businessman yesterday questioned what is the medical justification for businesses deemed “non-essential” to keep their doors closed, while other businesses can allow customers inside.
Egan Kemp, the co-owner and president of Eunison Co. Ltd., which operates as the Shoe Depot, said he was finally able to open his business for curbside service on Monday, but the process didn’t run as smoothly as expected, because most customers shopping for shoes want to look at and try on their options.
“We started yesterday; unfortunately it’s cumbersome, it’s labor-intensive and it’s truly not cost-effective. And once again, the aggravating part is from my managers’ assessment yesterday, the biggest complaint that they had from customers coming to pick up shoes was, ‘Why are you not allowed to let me in, when right over there, there are people in that store?’ We have to tell them it’s the government that is not allowing you in the store,” he said in an interview with Guardian Business yesterday.
“My staff was telling me yesterday there are customers inside Starbucks, inside Subway, inside these other businesses, while others are completely shuttered. So where is the medical justification for that disparity? It all comes back to the medical. We’re dealing with a medical situation, so where is the medical justification that one business can have customers inside one restaurant, but another restaurant can’t even open its doors?”
In March, by way of the Emergency Powers Act, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis declared a national state of emergency, ordering all businesses except food stores, stores that provide two-way communication, pharmacies and gas stations closed.
Earlier this month, the government relaxed some of those measures, allowing non-essential businesses with the ability to provide online shopping, delivery and/or curbside pickup to reopen.
Kemp said he’s offended by the term “non-essential” business and the way those types of businesses are being treated during the pandemic.
“The term itself is absolutely ludicrous, because they should consider every citizen and every business essential to a proper functioning country. We all need each other in some shape or fashion,” he said passionately.
“One of the things that troubles me is that you see even in the United States, the big corporate companies are operating daily while mom-and-pop stores are not. As an example in The Bahamas, currently Starbucks, Subway, McDonald’s, all the big franchises are operating, meanwhile Arawak Cay and those business owners are not able to function, as far as I understand. So what’s the difference? What’s the medical reason that one restaurant is able to open but another isn’t? Where’s the medical justification for the disparity? That’s my question.”
Kemp said he simply wants the government to execute what he believes should be one of its primary responsibilities – equity for all citizens and businesses.
“In other words, if one citizen is allowed to do something, then all citizens should be allowed to do something. If one business is allowed to do something, then all businesses should be allowed to do something,” he said, beginning to tear up.
“I was very offended yesterday speaking with a government official and I mentioned that I had to terminate 20 employees this week. I was mentioning that my employees are just as important as any government worker, or any essential employee and for that government official to just say to me coldly and boldly, ‘Well I’m sure they understand,’ is just absolutely abhorrent to me. Whoever you are, no matter your station in life, we all need income. I don’t think that the government and its employees and the essential businesses and their employees understand the pain that the rest of us are having to endure through this same crisis. We’re living in two different worlds. They have income, they have a job.
“For some of the population, they are in this situation but they don’t understand that their neighbor hasn’t had a paycheck for two months. They just see the neighbor sitting home like they’re sitting home.
“I’m at the end of my rope. I’ll give you an example, I would like the government to ask itself and its employees and all the essential businesses and essential workers, how would you have liked to survive the last two months with zero income? How could the government survive two months with zero income?”
Last month, Kemp closed down his flagship store at the Mall at Marathon after nearly 40 years of being a tenant in that location.