Small businesses march to highlight concerns impacting sector

Sunshine’s Deli is operating “on one leg”, its owner David Williams told the media on Friday as he prepared to take to the street to march in support of improvements for small businesses in The Bahamas.

Williams said while he has negotiated with his landlord on his unpaid rent and used loan money from the Small Business Development Centre (SBDC) to continue his business through June and July, September already looks to be a struggle.

He said he has seen a 75 percent decline in sales since lockdown measures were implemented by the government in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“Because my business is related directly to downtown, 75 percent of my business came directly from the smaller shops located downtown and the straw market,” Williams said.

“I’m going on God’s grace and mercy for the month of September. I’m hoping as a result of this march we’d be able to get the government’s attention and the government would even go a step further in reaching out to a number of us small businesses.”

He said he has continued to pay his staff, order supplies and keep up with utilities, after which he has little to nothing to pay himself.

Organizer of the march and small business advocate Mark Turnquest said small businesses were marching primarily to bring awareness to what the “erratic” opening and closing of businesses was doing to small business.

He added that they were also marching to convince the government to create a development plan for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), to legislate a small business act, allow for the participation of more MSMEs in the creation of policy to govern the sector and relax the “regulations that act as barriers to obtaining international funding for MSMEs”.

“We want to sit at the table parallel to the chamber of commerce and government when they are putting together policies for our industry,” said Turnquest.

The march was a muted 20-person rallying cry, 80 people shy of what Turnquest has hoping for. They marched anyway, escorted by police.

William Lunn, who deals with at-risk youth and also joined the march, said the government’s lockdown measures have stymied his work with at-risk youth.

“I’ve been dealing with them up until they shut the country down,” said Lunn. “Some of them have even been arrested since.”

Peter Gilcud said he joined the march to fight for for developing small businesses and to advocate for his program that trains would-be fishermen.

He said his program was promised funding by the government years ago, but that money has not materialized.

“We have yet to see a single dollar emerge,” he said. “We have to band together in order to get small businesses on the move.”

James Edwards of Edwards Construction said he marched to advocate for land access for Bahamians. 

“Our biggest problem is lease and rent pre-COVID-19 and post-COVID-19. We’re losing in rent,” said Edwards. 

“Government needs to make a real effort to open up land access and create an industrial park for small businesses. Mostly big businesses have taken up the existing industrial parks.”

Micklyn Lightbourne, co-owner of the Coterie of Caribbean Butlers, which trains frontline hospitality workers, said “all we need is help”.

Lightbourne joined the march to advocate for Bahamian small businesses to be given a greater chance to be involved in projects where foreign developers hire foreign companies, when the same services exist locally.

“We need government’s help. We need them to listen to us,” he said.

“We can provide everything that international institutes can provide. We have spent more than 30 years in the hospitality industry.

“We’re not a fly-by-night business. I believe that we have the wisdom and the understanding and hospitality training to sit around the table and help bring ideas and vision to hospitality training.”

Williams said during these difficult times the government could hire companies like his to cater House of Assembly sittings or use their food voucher program to support small eateries.

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Chester Robards

Chester Robards rejoined The Nassau Guardian in November 2017 as a senior business reporter. He has covered myriad topics and events for The Nassau Guardian. Education: Florida International University, BS in Journalism

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