Vending in Saint Lucia is not for the faint of heart. It is a long and arduous task, and a courageous one as well, as vendors get to their booths or trays in the early morning, long before the nation stirs for the day, and so often, leave their workstations very late in the afternoon, some even at night.
While some vendors can make a decent living from what they do, others merely eke out a living. Simply put, vending provides a critical economic lifeline for people who face difficulty entering the job market or who have lost their jobs.
A critical look at one type of vending in Saint Lucia, what is known as sidewalk vending, reveals that in the city center, it makes the streets come alive. The streets that are lined with vendors are vibrant, welcoming, and have a certain degree of safety attached to them.
But sidewalk vending is more than that. In today’s ‘guava season’ where unemployment is still in the double digits, sidewalk vending can generate employment, keep people safe and create the vitality and comity that is the hallmark of livable humane cities.
We are not advertising haphazard sidewalk vending where sidewalks are clogged with vendors. Neither are we advertising for vendors to take to the streets to surround schools, churches and other institutions.
Seeing how effective this informal sector is in providing that critical economic lifeline for families struggling to make ends meet, and in lowering the unemployment level, we believe that should government open more public spaces for the orderly conduct of that informal sector, this could be a win, win for everyone.
Sidewalk/street vending makes goods and services conveniently accessible for commuters and can reduce the transaction cost of everyday purchases.
Vendors in Saint Lucia have had a long and challenging journey, starting from the days when Clarke and Gaiety cinemas were in full bloom to now. Vendors have had to face many obstacles and setbacks. At the same time, working with the different governments of the day, the vendors, through agitation and advocacy, and through their association (St. Lucia Craft and Dry Goods Vendors Association) have made great and commendable strides as well.
For example, the infrastructure for vending has improved with craft, dry goods and provisions vendors having their respective facilities equipped with certain utilities like water, electricity, toilets, storage capacity and more.
Bona fide vendors are now in possession of two Vendors Identification Cards, one given by the Association and the other by the Castries Constituency Council (CCC) which can, with other things like a letter from the Association, assist them in sourcing small loans for their respective micro businesses. With the cards and letter/s from the Association, vendors can purchase from wholesale outlets in New York for example, afford them the use of the city’s comfort stations free of charge and other benefits, as the cards, particularly the one from the Association, comes with information like the NIC number of the respective card holder, and other personal information.
But despite all this, it has not been a bed of roses for vendors in Saint Lucia as they still need to find ways to increase their sales, competitiveness and viability.
This much was noted at the Association’s Bi-Annual General Meeting last month. Vendors in the Vendors Arcade are calling for more equity and fairness in the arrangement for cruise ship visitors, claiming that there is a growing trend of pre-arranged tour packages provided by vertically integrated operators who do not include or allow visitors to traverse the Vendors Arcade.
Disunity amongst vendors is another problem vendors face as it threatens their livelihoods, hence the call for unity to improve their lot by the executive of the Association.
“It is absolutely critically important that vendors stick together in pursuit of objectives that are in our mutual benefit,” stated both the president and vice president of the Association.
The next stage in the vendors development is their embracement of digital technology. It has already been told to them that survival in this digital era is not about conducting business the old fashion way.
Online payment systems have been preached to them as the way forward. While they are not yet ready to move in that direction, they are fully aware that sooner, rather than later, such a move will have to be made.
However, for the time being it is business as usual for vendors in making the city’s streets dynamic, providing a good source of income for the informal economy, providing goods and services at convenient and accessible places for commuters, and generally help in keeping the wheels of the Saint Lucian economy rolling along day after day.