Linstead Grand Market dilemma - Stakeholders, citizens want annual major event cancelled; vendors say no
The annual Linstead Grand Market is raising concerns among stakeholders and citizens in the St Catherine community, who want the day and night Christmas Eve event cancelled this year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic that has been spiking in this and some other parishes.
Since the announcement by chairman of the St Catherine Municipal Corporation and mayor of Spanish Town, Norman Scott, at the general meeting of the corporation held on Thursday, that the event will be staged from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve, it has drawn strong opposition from stakeholders and citizens, but cautious support from some vendors who spoke to The Sunday Gleaner.
The stakeholders and citizens are fearful that the massive crowds associated with the event – that has garnered the reputation of being the largest grand market in the country, attracting thousands of vendors and shoppers from the 14 parishes – could be a super spreader of COVID-19, even with the reduced staging time.
“Grand market this year should be cancelled and just be a regular shopping day,” said president of the Linstead JN Circle, Wesley Scott. “This is usually a jam-packed event and I don’t see how people are going to social-distance. Moreover, I don’t see how the police are going to control it.”
He added, “It will take the entire army to get the young people, especially those who are intoxicated, to leave after it closes off, and even then the damage would have already been done, because people would have had time to mingle and spread the virus.”
At last year’s event, the police had a difficult time, even after the sound systems were turned off at 4:00 Christmas morning, getting people to leave. Many remained in the streets until daylight.
STAY HOME AND PRAISE GOD
The Rev Madge Boyd, pastor of the Mission Accomplished Ministry in Linstead, was very steadfast in her opposition to the staging of the grand market at this time.
“I totally disagree with having the grand market. There is no way you can social-distance at an event like this,” she told The Sunday Gleaner. “It is just not possible. If we close schools because of the virus, we can cancel grand market, too.”
Rev Boyd said it would be a good replacement if people use this year to create a family atmosphere at home by cooking and praising God. According to her, the grand market was problematic even before the virus.
“The level of indulgence I have seen at these grand markets is not good. Our children are exposed to drugs and alcohol and are left unsupervised,” she disclosed.
President of the Linstead Community Development Committee (CDC), Devon Smith, mindful of the economic importance of the event to the Linstead populace, is hoping that there could be a balance.
“Truth be told, right now we are having scores of people coming into Linstead daily doing shopping, so on Christmas Eve when we will have more people converging on the town for this very popular event, I think if the authorities can institute the proper checks and balances, then the event should be staged,” he said.
Smith suggested that the duration of the event should be from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., instead of closing off at 10 p.m., to give shoppers and vendors adequate time to pack and leave the town, in keeping with the 10 p.m. curfew.
“We all want the virus to go away, so as stakeholders we have to play our part. We can’t be staging an event that has the potential to be a super spreader of COVID,” he said.
“However, if it can be done in an orderly manner, then by all means we should to go ahead. If it is practical, the CDC supports it because of the economic benefit it always brings to Linstead; but if not, then there should be other measures.”
NOT NORMAL TIMES
Dedra Reece, who was born in Linstead and has attended more than 40 grand markets in the town, is of the view that they should put off the event this year.
“They will not be able to control the crowd and this will increase the potential for the transmission of the virus. People should just see this year as an indoor family fun period, and plan festivities with family members in the homes,” she said.
Similar sentiments were expressed by a number of residents, including Pearline White, who also attended more than 40 grand markets in past years.
“This is not a normal time with the virus, so I believe they can put it off for this year and hope that it goes away for next year,” White declared.
But while the usual fever-pitch event does not have the overwhelming support of the stakeholders and citizenry, dry goods vendors, especially, are singing a different tune.
Having experienced a period of downturn in their businesses since the start of the pandemic in March, the vendors are banking on the grand market staging to redeem some lost profits.
“We have no control over the scaling down of the grand market, but I would hope that the Government would allow us to go until midnight,” said Wayne Clarke, who operates Wayne’s Shoes Store, doing business in the Linstead Market for close to 40 years. “We have invested a lot of money to buy goods, and it has been a while since we really make anything on our investments.”
Clarke, a father of five, continued, “We do understand the health concerns but I don’t think going up to midnight would make it any worse. This is the time we are trying to make something to care for our families, having suffered badly since March.”
According to him, most of the vendors are of the same opinion and have indicated that they are prepared to go along with the COVID-19 protocols.
Dawn Williams, who has been selling spices and seasonings for more than 20 years, agreed that the 5 a.m. until 10 p.m. time frame will not be adequate for the traditional grand market, but the current circumstance forced adjustments to be made at this time.
“There is a health crisis affecting us so we have no choice but to go along with it. I think most people will leave at 10 because they know there is a curfew,” Williams said.
Jerk chicken vendor Lloyd Vincent, who has been selling jerk chicken at grand markets for the past 10 years, said he is thankful for the 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. time frame.
“I give thanks for the time. Normally I would sell 10 buckets of jerk chicken, but I don’t think I will be able to sell three this time, because I don’t think a lot of people are going to turn out, but whatever I can sell I will be thankful,” he stated.
Meanwhile, Herbert Garriques, chairman of the Linstead Town Centre Committee that is responsible for planning the event, and councillor for the Linstead division, told The Sunday Gleaner that there are no plans to cancel the grand market.
“Undoubtedly there will be some logistical issues in its execution, but this is one time of the year where vendors from all over the country can make a little money. Those in St Catherine are already reeling from the lockdown,” he pointed out.
“What we have done is eliminate the usual children attractions in the Rose Duncan’s Park. Regardless, we know it will be difficult for the security forces, but we hope they will be able to enforce the 10 p.m. curfew.”
Attractions such as the bounceabout, trampoline, Ferris wheel, video games and face-painting, as well as the Christmas tree will be absent from the Rose Duncan’s Park this year.
The Town Centre Committee chairman said while he took note of the fact that the social-distancing protocol could be difficult to enforce where shoppers are concerned, efforts will be made to have vendors socially distanced. He implored all attending the event to wear face covering.
Garriques said he would have liked to recommend to the municipal corporation and health department to cancel the event, but there has to be a delicate balance.
“We have, however, established 14 sanitisation stations in Linstead and adjoining communities to encourage vendors and shoppers to sanitise their hands while they are out and about,” he said.