Straw vendors face “major struggle” without US cruise lines

Straw vendors face “major struggle” without US cruise lines
Straw work on display at the Nassau Straw Market (IMAGE COURTESY OF WWW.BAHAMAS.COM)

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Straw vendors are facing a “major struggle” to make ends meet, according to Rebecca Small, vice president of the Straw Business Persons Society.

Small told Eyewitness News vendors are “hurting”, adding the situation will likely only worsen with US cruise lines not expected to sail until mid-September at the earliest.

“We have received government assistance for eight weeks,” she said.

“That eight weeks has finished. If I didn’t have family support I would be out in the cold. I still have bills to pay and it’s really rough right now. I could only imagine what those vendors who have mortgages, rent and things like that to pay. I could only imagine their struggle is like. It’s really rough.”

Small added: “Right now many vendors are hurting. They are living from pay cheque to pay cheque. For persons like us in the tourism industry it is a major struggle right now.”

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), announced last week that sailings from US ports have been postponed until mid-September at earliest, meaning that there will be very few if any tourists visiting the Straw Market for another few months.

Small noted that some 380 vendors operate out of the downtown straw market. “It’s about 380 vendors there. We have over 500 shops but they downgraded us due to the rent and certain people got frustrated with the new demands and left because they were not working with the people.”

Straw vendors had been able to benefit from a $200 weekly unemployment benefit assistance from the government which via the National Insurance Board (NIB).

While the government has allocated $40 million for temporary income replacement for persons still unemployed when their unemployment assistance ends, it is unclear where self employed individuals working in the tourism industry such as straw vendors stand.

NIB Director Dr Nicole Virgill-Rolle did not respond to queries yesterday.

Works Minister Desmond Bannister recently noted that the Straw Market Authority has seen $165,000 in lost rental income due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bannister said the sum represented losses up to May 31, and reflected a 71.4 percent decrease.