Businesses in George Town are failing in the economic downturn, tourism downturn and the spread of retail businesses throughout the island.
Some are reporting business down by 30 per cent.
Where once it was nearly impossible to secure prime downtown space in George Town, there are retail spaces lying empty.
Emma Graham-Taylor of The Camera Store said, ‘Essentially business is down, those that I talk to in George Town, report that they are anywhere from 15-30 per cent down.’
President of Tortuga Rum Company Mr. Robert Hamaty said that because of the recession and the downturn in cruise tourism, most merchants in George Town are down at least 30 per cent.
‘We attribute this mainly to a serious decline in cruise passenger numbers. About 60 to 70 per cent of our business at the camera store is cruise passengers and so a decline in arrivals affects us instantly and directly,’ Ms Graham-Taylor said.
‘Indirectly it affects us as the decline in arrivals means less money into the pockets of the locals and so then the 30-40 per cent of our business that is local also has less money to spend.’
But, she said the landlord understands the situation.
‘If other landlords don’t start to assist their tenants then I fear that stores will start to close and this will in turn start to affect the way the Cayman Islands is perceived by those visiting our shores – empty store fronts will not look good.’
There are empty store fronts in prime locations.
Some examples include: Colombian Emeralds on the waterfront; the West Wind building has space to rent; a couple of small units in the Royal Watler cruise terminal are empty; and large unit on Fort Street is available to rent.
‘Things are very slow. Of course there’s been a big slowdown with the cruise ships,’ said Mr. Hamaty.
He has closed a store on Goring Avenue but still has four other outlets in George Town.
People on the Island now have options of shopping in many places outside of George Town such as Governor’s Square, Camana Bay or The Strand Shopping Centre.
‘Things have changed a lot. The island has really spread,’ Mr. Hamaty said.
Even within George Town, the logistics of demand are difficult.
‘The Royal Watler and the rest of George Town are like two towns,’ he said. ‘It all depends on where the ships come in.’
And when there are no cruise ships the Royal Watler cruise terminal is like a ghost town, he said.
Mr. Hamaty said a flagship restaurant and bar is to open before Christmas at the terminal, which will help draw locals into the complex.
‘That should have been a priority for the Port Authority in the first place – getting a tenant in there,’ he said.
The tenants at the Royal Watler got a 15 per cent rent reduction from the Port Authority Board effective May.
‘The initial rate was so ridiculous that 15 per cent has helped, but it’s not great,’ Mr. Hamaty said.
The rent reduction was given in response to an appeal by the tenants whose businesses were down.
The reduction is to be reviewed in November with new board members.
Director of the Port Authority Paul Hurlston said although the tenants have left arrangements are being made for either sub-leasing or cancellation.
One store that moved recently for rent reasons is Arabus.
The clothing store moved from Fort Street around the corner to Edward Street because owners couldn’t afford the spike in rent that was coming. ‘They raised the rent astronomically and we couldn’t afford it,’ said owner Ed Solomon.
‘We had been planning on going to the Seven Mile Beach strip but felt we needed the walk-ins in town,’ he said. ‘You get the business people in town and the one-stop shopper.’
While business is not great because of the economy, Arabus is still holding their own because it has a good clientele, having been in business for 40 years, Mr. Solomon said.
Mr. Hamaty said things will improve and that next year the cruise schedule will start to get busier.
‘Things can’t go on like this,’ he said.
But he also believes George Town’s full potential is not being used. ‘It’s a beautiful location. It should come alive at night. The merchants should come together and form a committee to bring it to life. It has so much potential.’