Businesses count Hero losses

An all-weekend road closure in the heart of George Town to facilitate National Heroes Day celebrations has left some business owners counting their losses.

Some operators were forced to close and others lost as much as 60 per cent of their usual weekend trade after roads were blocked off from 6pm Friday until Monday evening to make way for the annual celebration.

Business owners complained the loss of business comes at a time when they are already struggling to cope with the effect of an economic downturn and a drop in cruise ship visitors.

‘Most businesses are already down this year, so to have this on top really hurts,’ said Bacchus Restaurant and Wine Bar owner Keith Griffin, who estimated that his weekend takings were down 60 per cent.

‘I’m fully behind the Heroes Day celebration; I just think they need to get local businesses involved so they are not hurt by it,’ he said.

Señor Frogs Manager Gustavo Lecanda said business at his venue was down 30 to 40 per cent on normal.

‘It was a disaster,’ he said.

Annie’s Beauty Centre, which does body piercing and tattoos, decided to stay closed Monday after a very slow day of business on Saturday.

‘Everybody that had appointments with us thought we were closed,’ said manager Ann-Marie Logan. ‘A few people made the initiative to call to check … but cruise visitors don’t have phone numbers; they just assumed we were closed. It’s unfortunate.’

Some business owners questioned why roads had to be closed 64 hours ahead of the beginning of the celebration.

But event organisers, the Ministry of Education, Training, Employment, Youth, Sports and Culture, said the road closures were necessary to properly set up for the event, which included tented seating for close to 1,700 people.

‘Preparing for the National Heroes Day celebration is a mammoth operation that requires various crews and technical staff to be on-site setting up from 7pm Friday, virtually right through to the Monday morning of the event itself,’ said Ministry Corporate Communications Manager, Gina Matthews.

She said organisers began installing tents on Edward Street at 6.30pm Friday and workers began installing the new ‘Aspiration’ monument honouring the role of women in Caymanian society at 5am Saturday morning.

‘As the figures were in place, the equipment required to lift the statues was removed and the staging was erected at the top end of Fort Street. Whilst this was taking place, the staging and tent was being erected in front of the LA building,’ she said in an emailed response to questions.

‘Allowing the passage of vehicular traffic in the vicinity whilst this is taking place would be unsafe for both the crews and the motorists,’ Ms Matthews said.

She added that businesses had been warned of the roads closures well in advance and there had also been notifications of the closures in the press. However one business owner told the Caymanian Compass she didn’t receive written notification of the road-blocks until Thursday and another said he didn’t receive the letter until Friday afternoon.

Ms Matthews said reports that some businesses were unhappy with the way the event had been handled was contrary to the feedback the Ministry had received from businesses in the area.

‘The Ministry regrets any adverse impact on businesses, but it should be noted that whilst vehicular access is restricted, pedestrian access is not. Any member of the public wishing to access the businesses in that area is able to do so.’

She said some businesses had said the celebration drew cruise ship visitors to the downtown area, benefiting business as well as giving visitors a chance to experience one of the island’s largest and most prestigious events.

Business owners that spoke to the Caymanian Compass were keen to pledge their support for the annual event – they said they just wish it could be done in a way that has less impact on local businesses.

Both Mr. Griffin and Mr. Lecanda said they will consider staying closed for the weekend next year if the circumstances are the same.

‘It’s just not worth it,’ Mr. Lecanda said.

National Heroes Day was first celebrated in Cayman in 2003 as part of the year-long Quincentennial Celebrations. The fourth Monday of January was recognised as a public holiday thereafter, however it wasn’t until 2007 that the government began once again to mark the occasion with a public ceremony.

Organisers budgeted $450,000 for the event this year, including $120,000 for the ‘Aspiration’ statue and almost $92,000 on bringing the Brass Band of Battle Creek down from Michigan, USA.

The Ministry had not provided a final cost for the celebration by press time Wednesday.