Warning citations were handed out to more than a dozen vendors along Seven Mile and West Bay Public Beaches over the past week as the Department of Commerce and Investment responded to long-standing complaints about unlicensed or even dangerous activities in the popular tourist areas.
On Thursday, a week after the first round of tickets were handed out – telling vendors to cease operations within 14 days or face fines – most of the Seven Mile Beach vendors remained operational.
“Some of us got homes and mortgages, where are we going to find the money to feed our kids?” said Andre Woodman, one of the admittedly unlicensed vendors who rents everything from beach chairs to Jet Skis on Seven Mile Public Beach.
Mr. Woodman’s brother Reuben displayed a copy of the warning citation he received from a commerce and investment enforcement officer on May 12. The ticket stated that the business the brothers own – Ride with Us Motorsports – was operating without a valid license.
The warning states: “By way of this notice, the department is offering you an opportunity to become compliant with the requisite sections of the law. You are hereby given 14 days to cease the above identified infraction. Failure to comply will result in a notice of a ticket or fine under section 35 of the law and legal action may be taken …”
Department of Commerce and Investment Head of Compliance and Enforcement Claudia Brady said the department’s officers issued about 16 warning notices on May 12 and May 17 to individuals who have been operating without a trade and business license. She said other citations could be sent out in the coming weeks.
The warnings went to a variety of unlicensed vendors, including individuals renting beach chairs, umbrellas, floats and Jet Skis and those selling food and beverages along the beach. Some souvenir sellers on West Bay Public Beach also received warning tickets.
A number of Seven Mile Beach vendors, including the Woodman brothers, Daphne Bennett, Michael Morgan and George Brooks, all said they have received warnings.
Mr. Brooks, who said he started renting beach chairs and umbrellas on Seven Mile Beach in late 2011, said he submitted an application and documents for a trade and business license at least three years ago with the $25 fee, but he never heard back.
The West Bay man said he earns about $800 to $900 a month renting the chairs and doubted he could afford a $500 fine. He also expressed doubts about whether he could find another job.
“I had a juvenile record,” Mr. Brooks said. “It was kind of hard for me to get a job. [Beach vending] is the only thing I got to do.”
Andre Woodman said his business had a license at one stage but was denied a renewal. He believes he was not given a trade and business license because his company was operating on Seven Mile Beach, where a number of condo owners have complained about vendors for years.
“If you tell [the Department of Commerce and Investment] you’re not selling on Seven Mile Beach, they’ll give you a license,” Mr. Woodman said.
The beach vending issue came to the fore again in March when condo owners, including those at Harbour Heights and the Avalon Condominiums, which are near Public Beach, voiced concerns to government officials about illegal vendors “overrunning” Cayman’s pristine Seven Mile Beach. “The very symbol of this beautiful island and the magnet that draws both Caymanians and multitudes of tourists is being destroyed before our very eyes,” read an eight-page letter sent to Tourism Ministry Councilor Joey Hew in March by the Harbour Heights development’s strata management council and signed by council member Bob Loverd.
“The beach … does not seem to be regulated by law [and] government officials do not appear to have the authority to act,” the letter states, adding that the revamped Public Beach area just south of the Kimpton hotel under construction seems to have become a haven where “unlicensed vendors aggressively compete with each other to offer a carnival of competing services.”
The Avalon Condominiums strata council supported the Harbour Heights organization’s comments.
“We too have observed the gradual, but steady increase in commercial activity at the Public Beach, and for the first time in my nearly 20 years of wintering here, we have had vendors peddling their wares to people on our beach,” said Warren Nock, chairman of the condo management strata.
“The beach experience here has been unique in the Caribbean. In addition to the wonderful natural elements, guests have felt welcomed, safe, and left in peace to rid themselves of the stresses and pressures of life at home.”
Residents have also complained about some of the water sports vendors – particularly those who rent Jet Skis – operating far too close to shore to maintain the safety of swimmers. The Cayman Compass observed one Jet Ski passing near tourists at the shoreline Thursday morning.