Powered by nightlife, Old Harbour longs for full reopening

Powered by nightlife, Old Harbour longs for full reopening

Managing editor

Sunday, May 31, 2020

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FOR the past four months, Lisa, who trades sex for cash, has not plied her wares.

She finally emerged Thursday night, back onto the streets of a much quieter than normal Old Harbour. She's seen a huge drop in her income, she told the Jamaica Observer on Friday afternoon. Before COVID-19 brought nightlife to a halt, she pulled in between $50,000 and $70,000 a week, she estimated. Now she makes between $10,000 and $20,000, she said.

“Me cyaan dance now cause bar lock. Di club dem lock up, business bad,” she said, make-up expertly applied to match her vibrant skin-tight leggings and cropped top. “[I survive] by standin' out here an try get a one and two man.” She declined to give a last name or have her photo taken.

She spoke with the Sunday Observer a few feet away from a cluster of structures along West Street. There is hand sanitiser provided in the rooms, for when clients are entertained, she said, but she admitted that she has not been using it. And wearing a mask doesn't exactly help in her line of work, she explained.

“Me have mi mask inna me bag but right now [when] me a work me cyaan really put on de mask, me haffi jus pray say me nu ketch nutten,” she said. Her clients, she added, remove their masks when they engage her services and she usually “prays” for a speedy transaction to minimise the duration of physical contact.

The all-island night curfew, part of the Government's measures to curtail the spread of COVID-19, has left a gaping hole in the pockets of many other Old Harbour residents who, like Lisa, make their living after dark. What was once a bustling cacophony of sounds, a vibrant entertainment hub in St Catherine that lures partygoers from neighbouring parishes, has become a much calmer community since COVID-19 arrived at Jamaica's shores.

Further down the road from where Lisa is trying to do business, only two among a cluster of bars were open. Bartender Nastacia Lee, who works at Di Den, explained that they had only reopened a few nights ago. She's waiting to see what her next pay cheque will look like; it depends on bar sales. At the other bar, Vybes 001, the owner's brother-in-law Kirk says this has been the worst the bar business has ever been. “Not even di storm dem inna Jamaica never wreck Jamaica so. 'Cause yuh know inna di rain we a drink an a smoke. Right now dis, me nah lie, shuckle up, shiffle up, move up, reap up, everyting,” he said, his ganja spliff carefully pinched between index and thumb fingers. As a DJ, he's feeling the brunt of COVID-19's wrath as well. His “sound” normally plays gigs at various spots from Friday to Sunday. Now he parties at home and depends on family overseas to send him money.

President of the Old Harbour Chamber of Commerce Adrian Samuda is well aware of the plight of small businesses in both the formal and informal sectors. On May 25, he launched a four-week-long GoFundMe campaign to raise at least US$30,000, which will be provided to 40 businesses to help them get ready for full reopening of the economy, whenever that comes.

“Old Harbour is big on nightlife, [and] nightlife is down to zero right now,” he explained. “At every other light post in Old Harbour there is a bar. People open them as a quick means of making money. The property [next door to his Kaluga Kafe] alone has close to eight bars. They have been closed down from about mid-March.”

Community bars were given the go-ahead to reopen on May 21, with strict guidelines in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But sports bars and larger establishments remained shuttered. On June 1, there will be further relaxing of the measures in place as part of the Government's efforts to curtail the virus' spread. Like many right across the island, small businesses in Old Harbour are hanging on for dear life.

Samuda, the chamber president, told the Sunday Observer that after-hour activities, which had already been curtailed as part of crime-fighting measures before COVID-19 struck, had been dealt a harsh blow by the disease. And this has had a ripple effect throughout the entire community. Party promoters are left with no events to plan; graphic designers' services are no longer needed as there are no flyers to create; town criers who once drove around with loud speakers blaring information on upcoming events have gone silent; the pan chicken man, peanut and cigarette vendors no longer have venues on which to converge. And the party clothes remain in store windows.

The town's three main strip joints, he added, are also not immune to the ravages of COVID-19.

Understandable, based on the nature of the high-contact activities that typically take place in those establishments.

“We have about three main strip clubs in Old Harbour. They don't have any business now. How are they paying their lease or rent now? The state of emergency had them operating [at earlier hours], now with [the new] coronavirus they are totally out.”

For now, there is a sense of resignation in the community.

“We see wha a gwaan so we haffi jus work wid di Government and adjust to what him a say,” said DJ Kirk. “Cause we done see wha a gwaan overseas and know say dis ting is not a normal ting. So the Government a do him bes fi help we stay alive.”

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