Traffic snarl upsets shop owners

A fundraising event held on the George Town waterfront last Saturday snarled traffic and upset many business owners on one of busiest shopping days before Christmas.

Island Companies and dms Broadcasting co-hosted a ‘Family Fun Day’ event with live music, kids’ activities, and raffles. Admission was free and everyone on island was urged to come down.

That’s where the problem started for holiday shoppers and several businesses in the area.

‘It was a pain in the butt,’ said David Guilfoyle, whose family owns a business on Harbour Drive in George Town. ‘It’s one thing when you close it for Pirates Week or a special occasion, but you have to take into consideration the time of year.’

Billy Adam, whose downtown Hobbies and Books store is a Caymanian Christmas favourite, said many of his customers told him they didn’t come in on Saturday because of the traffic mess.

‘Quite a few people contacted me to say it was horrendous,’ Mr. Adam said. ‘It didn’t make the shopping experience pleasant in George Town. No one wants to sit in traffic.’

Several businesses contacted by the Caymanian Compass said they lost customers on what is typically one of the busiest days of the year for retail in Grand Cayman.

‘A lot of our sales people count on this time of year to make a lot of their earnings,’ said Kirk Freeport VP of Operations Chris Kirkconnell.

Harbour Drive between Fort Street and Cardinall Avenue was closed down from about 11.30am-4.30pm Saturday, according to Island Companies officials. The event was held partly as a fundraiser for the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, and partly as a ‘customer appreciation’ day for the companies that organised it.

Island Companies co-founder Renard Moxam said he was quite surprised to hear there had been complaints about the event from some of the other businesses, and noted other companies have requested street closures in the past about which little has been said.

‘We do apologise if it was an inconvenience to anybody,’ Mr. Moxam said. ‘I’m amazed our competitors have seen fit (to voice complaints) in this instance. We’ve had people who came by and applauded us on the idea.’

Mr. Moxam said permission was received for the street closure from both the Royal Cayman Islands Police and the Port Authority. Generally, RCIPS must authorise all street closures for events in Grand Cayman.

A police spokesperson said this event was ‘flagged’ by the department since it was being held as an NCVO fundraiser. National Council officials did not return calls for comment as of press time.

Mr. Moxam said proceeds from events like face-painting, street vendor sales and other activities went to NCVO. It was unknown at press time how much the event had raised for the charity.

However, one of Island Companies major downtown competitors, Kirk Freeport, said the street closure also had the effect of diverting hundreds of cruise ship passengers who entered on the north side of the Harbour Drive barrier toward Island Companies stores. There were two cruise ships in George Town harbour Saturday.

‘It’s not that it was impossible for cruise ship visitors to get down Harbour Drive, but it just made it harder,’ said Mr. Kirkconnell. ‘Anyone where the road was blocked off had less business than they normally would have the Saturday before Christmas.’

Mr. Kirkconnell also said getting from downtown to the Little Darlings store on Crewe Road, usually about a two minute drive, took half an hour during the day Saturday.

Island Companies officials said there was no way to have an event with so many kids safely without closing the street down. Mr. Moxam also noted the companies involved wanted to have it in the street because of higher visibility.

Kirk Freeport Marketing Director Lance Kidder said his company was unaware of the street closure until about 9am Saturday when they were informed about it by other waterfront stores.

‘All we’re asking for is a little consideration for the downtown merchants,’ Mr. Kidder said. ‘That’s when it becomes a big problem.’

Announcements about the event were in the local media last week. Island Companies also sent out e-mails about the event early last week to notify people it was happening and ask them to come down.

Mr. Adam said he believes a lack of planning for the waterfront area has made it unpleasant for drivers anytime a large event is held. He said large numbers of cruise shippers on top of street closures makes it even tougher.

‘We had complaints from store customers that they couldn’t get to the store,’ he said. ‘Every time they stop the flow downtown it makes the vehicle traffic impossible.’

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