By NEWSDAY STAFF Saturday, December 22 2012
‘TWAS the weekend before Christmas and all through Trini-land; thousands were a-shopping to get their loved ones, gifts so grand!’
THEY came in their thousands yesterday — the start of the last weekend before Christmas — descending on the streets of Port-of-Spain, San Fernando, Chaguanas and Arima as Yuletide Season shopping kicked into high gear, four days before Christmas Day.
Toys were at the top of most people’s shopping list, followed by jewelry, electronics and clothing. Shoppers were also spending cash on household items – curtains and mats, especially. Grocers were also cashing in on the “Christmas spirit,” with several offering daily specials on Christmas goodies that had customers lapping it all up, lining up at the cash registers with trolleys filled with groceries.
Businesses and street vendors came out with it all to tempt the shoppers. Yesterday, on the Brian Lara Promenade, shoppers got a brief, but wonderful taste of buying local as 40 local small business owners and craftsmen from Diego Martin, Port-of-Spain, San Juan, Laventille, Tunapuna and Arima took part in a one-day Christmas Exposition.
Hosted by the Ministry of the People and Social Development for persons with micro-businesses benefiting from a Micro Enterprise Grant (MEG), the participants displayed their goods under tents.
At the end of the day, a number of the small business owners said they were glad they got a chance to show off their goods, they only wished the Exposition was for more than one day.
“I expected more persons to pass through the different tents and engage us in conversation. Even though I didn’t get the sales I expected, I was still glad for the opportunity to displays my items,” said Jacqueline Charles, a resident of Arima and owner of a small clothing business.
Some of the business owners also wished that the exposition had been advertised on a larger scale so that the public would have been more aware of the event.
“I had some customers who wanted to come back the next day (today), but because we wouldn’t be here, we lost out on sales. But I think this exposition was still a great opportunity to showcase my local items and that of other local small business owners,” said entrepreneur Joanne Thompson of Laventille, who was selling crochet garments and household items.
Geryn Jeremiah, a resident of Arima has been selling her custom-made, hand painted bed sets, quilts, kitchen sets, and handbags from her home for the past two years. She told Newsday her skill was developed through practising her art in Secondary School, after which, she decided to pursue a career in the field by starting her own business called “Blu Ciel Interiors.”
“It was difficult for me to finance my business, so I decided to apply for MEG as a means of development for myself, and family. I was relieved when I got through with the grant so I didn’t have to depend on anyone to finance my business,” Jeremiah said. Gillian Belfon, another small business owner from Arima who conducts her business at one of the vending booths in Arima. She has been in the craft business for the past 20 years and her business involved making craft jewelry, and African clothing. Through a grant from the MEG, she bought a heavy duty sewing machine to increase her production of garments.
“I am now able to do more work since I got the loan, so my business is progressing smoothly. I always look forward to expositions like these, because it allows me to market my products,” said Belfon.
Among the art and craft products were also paintings done by young artistes around the Caribbean. Leather material slippers, bags and belts were also on sale. Keith Pierre, a resident of Port of Spain, said he started making leather material items in 1972 as a means of financing his basic needs.
“No one ever taught me how to create leather material items. Back in 1972, I was out of a job, and had no money to buy anything to eat. I saw someone wearing a leather slipper, and I immediately got the idea to create leather slippers. After trial and error, and the guidance of God, I am able to perfect the art,” Pierre said.
He said that he used the grant he received to buy more materials to further develop his business. Asked why he stayed in the business for so long, Pierre simply said it was because of survival.
“When you are hungry, you get an inner drive to do something that will end the hunger. This is how I make a living without having to do evil acts, like stealing. I never believed in begging, so this is how I make an honest living,” Pierre told Newsday proudly..
In the retail section of downtown Port-of-Spain, businesses gave varied reports on their sales.
At Standards Furniture Store on Queen Street, sales were “a little better than last year” said an employee who also said that furniture sales were faster than appliances.
Spokespersons at Francis Fashion, Queen and Henry reported “okay sales” with the store not being as busy as was ususal but said the store would be open up to Christmas Eve for “last minute” shoppers.
At lingerie and accessory store, Wonderful World, jewelry was the “number one item” shoppers were spending cash on. Urban Vibes Ltd on lower Henry Street reported good sales on jerseys and caps.
Shoppers were also thronging the malls, even though parking was presenting a problem for consumers, leaving some of them very disgruntled, some businesses reported. Roma Maraj of Maraj Fine Collections, which has branches in both the Falls at West Mall and Long Circular Mall, said though that despite the parking issues, business was thriving at the shop.
“I don’t think there is an economic problem anymore. Last year we saw it, but this year not as much,” she said Rhea Ramnarine, Manager of The Gem Shop, West Mall said at Christmas time there was no difference in the week and week end periods because customers were shopping at all times. She said people have even been taking time off of work to come shopping and were spending their money like at any other Christmas.
She reports that the black diamond, displayed in the gold and diamond section, with a starting price of at $2,500 is a best seller at the store.
In the children department, toys remain a favourite but even so Toy Hill manager at Long Circular Mall, Kerine Thorn said sees the taste in toys changing from those that “ require imagination, they want electronics that do the imagination for them.”
Thorn also noted that even though people were still buying a lot, sales have dropped to less and less every year.
“There are still a lot of people, but less than before,” he said.
This year, the most popular toy with girls was the Baby Alive Doll. This doll mimics a baby by having the ability to eat, wet itself and be changed. The average cost of this doll is $339 and the special package doll that comes fully equipped with medical toys cost $795. The diapers for the doll, which was a must have accessary, costs $80, which is more than the price of a pack of real pampers. For boys, the most popular toys were Scaletrics, toy helicopter and toy cars. The average price range that shoppers were paying for these toys were $300 to $500.
One seller that was particularly popular for all children between the ages of four to nine, were the tablets designed for children- especially the Leap Pad 2 Explore Fast and the Innotab 2 which cost $1,475 and $1,469 respectively.