Small section of Stabroek Market to be closed today
-some 50 vendors for relocation

By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
August 21, 1999

A small section of the Stabroek Market will be closed from today to facilitate emergency repairs to the century-old steel frame structure, but the entire market will not be closed as Mayor Hamilton Green had announced on Thursday.

Some 50 vendors in the eastern section of the market will be moved in the initial relocation but funding has not yet been identified for the rehabilitation works. They will be temporarily relocated on the periphery of the car park.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Green told Stabroek News that following his previous announcement at a press briefing that the market will be closed this weekend in order to prevent a catastrophe, stallholders implored the council not to shut down the entire market.

The initial decision to close the market, Green said, was based on the recommendation of City Engineer, Cephas James, who revealed that there had been rapid deterioration in the structure and that hanging metal in certain parts of the facility was now a threat to life and limb.

Green had not informed all the councillors about the decision to close the market prior to briefing the press. However, he said, following the briefing a meeting was held with James, Town Clerk Beulah Williams, City Treasurer Roderick Edinboro, Clerk of Markets Schuler Griffith, other senior officers of the City Council, Chairman of the Stabroek Market Stallholders Committee, Albert Lewis and a representative number of stallholders. Councillors Zaman Alli, Patricia Chase-Green, Carl Rogers, and T. Anson Sancho were among the few councillors present. It was at this meeting, after appeals by stallholders that it was agreed that the market would be rehabilitated in sections beginning with the eastern section, which consists of the bell tower and the canopies separated by the tower. The entire market, built in 1881, covers an area of area of 77,000 square feet.

According to Griffith, the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) will start moving stalls from under the canopy of the eastern section of the market and in front of the market in preparation for emergency repair works. The area will then be cordoned off.

Neither Griffith nor Green could say whether the repairs would begin as soon as the area was cleared and cordoned off. Griffith said that a fence would be built to cordon off the area where repairs will be done, which will extend to a section of Water Street. "You cannot have work going on and people walking about," he said.

Meanwhile, Griffith met those vendors who will be directly affected yesterday afternoon, to discuss the issue of relocation, and they have agreed to begin moving today.

The consensus of stallholders is that the market is in need of urgent and extensive repairs and they welcome the immediate start of work. They expressed their desire to cooperate with the council but want the council to consult with them in the interest of the market and to be honest with them in these discussions. They feel that because of the size of the building and the amount of resources needed to facilitate complete repairs, that the work should be done in stages.

Lewis said that the suggestion that the market be closed because of the possibility of fatal injuries was too simplistic. Closing the entire market, he reasoned, would put thousands of people out of employment.

Lewis, who is a butcher, and cloth vendor Chandrika Persaud said that many stallholders owe the banks large sums of money and would be unable to make payments on their loans.

Persaud, who has been in the market for over 25 years, noted that its condition had been deteriorating over the years and not just rapidly in recent years. Numerous complaints were made to the M&CC. He said that the history of repairs and reconstruction was that as soon as work begins money will run out and the "work will be left halfway." The council, he said, has been working without a plan and to date "the mayor has not said to us how long the repairs will take."

These stallholders also feel that a total closure of the market would incur far more costs in relocating vendors. The security of goods, they feel, will be in jeopardy.

H Seepersaud Maraj whose family has had a jewellery business in the market since 1935 was "ecstatic about any repairs which would add to the aesthetics of the building." The market itself, he said, "is a tourist attraction and that is one of the reasons why I would welcome the repairs." He is not happy with a total closure but feels that if the bell tower and the canopy are in a near state of collapse the council should begin work there immediately. An upliftment of the market he feels would result in tremendous gain.

Grocer Rudolph Alves said that he did not believe the entire market could be done in sections, but that the structure was far gone and should be closed completely. Interfering with one section could make another section collapse and people's lives will then be in danger. He noted the neglect of the market over the years which could have been avoided.

Grocer Silda Chance said that the council must look at the more dangerous sections immediately and concentrate on doing the work in sections. She was critical of the council for not alerting stallholders to what to expect. Like others, she learnt about the impending closure from the newspapers. Stallholders have weekly and monthly customers whom they feel they owe it to, to tell them they will be relocated.

Stallholder Ewart Layne said that millions of dollars in goods will be lost as goods have expiry dates. Closing the market now would be bad, he said, adding that funds were not available, contracts have not been tendered and materials were not on hand. He noted that the entire structure is not falling and that the basic structure will be retained. Over the years, he said, "there has been absolutely no maintenance." The council, he stated, has been getting over $48 million annually from the market and putting nothing back into it in terms of maintenance. He feels that the M&CC ought to consult with the stallholders and not be dictatorial in managing the affairs of the market. He feels that a compromise between stallholders and the City Council to close the market for a number of hours each day or for some days during each week until repairs are completed could be reached.

Cloth vendor Vijay Singh, like Layne, feels that Stabroek Market "is the biggest centre of business in the city," with people from all parts of the country visiting regularly to do their shopping. Not only will the shoppers be inconvenienced but those who supply goods to the stallholders including the farmers from the Pomeroon, Essequibo River, Mahaica, Black Bush Polder and elsewhere. Contending that stallholders will oppose a total closure of the market, Singh said that the displacement of vendors will lead to the people being pauperised.

Jeweller Sunil Persaud does not think that "the country can afford to close the market in full" because it earns much needed foreign exchange for the country. A lot of customers, he said, come from overseas to buy gold at the Stabroek Market.

Tailor and clothing vendor Basdeo agreed that the entire market needed repairing, especially the roof which leaks badly. Rewiring and ventilation are also areas that need urgent attention.

Kashrinandan who runs a cook shop feels that any repairs to the structure will affect his business and feels that at some time or the other the entire market will have to be closed to facilitate repairs. He noted that there is need for urgent rewiring noting that electric wires spark every so often when power returns after there was a power outage.

Minawattie Caloo feels that business is already bad and closing down the market will only add to the plight of many who are eking out a living. She is concerned that rust and dust will affect her food business but feels that the repairs must go on. Some sections would have to move such as those dealing with foods.

Deonarine Narine feels that business and repairs must go on together. Clothing and other commodities he feels could be protected once people are informed in time and appropriate action is taken.

Stallholder Lolita Misir feel that repairs must be done in sections, but there needs to be a sufficient number of guards on duty to ensure that the loss of goods through theft is kept to a minimum.

Butcher Abdul Rajak feels that nothing anybody can say will make a difference in what the City Council wants to do. He feels that from the market revenue the council collects, some must go to market maintenance.

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