It was one of the first casualties of the coronavirus crisis, but Don Foster’s dive shop is already making a comeback.
Long-time manager Sergio Coni has taken over the business and reopened last weekend.
It will be a scaled down operation focussing on scuba diving only and with no retail element or snorkel tours geared towards cruise tourists.
Coni said he was excited to “take a leap into the unknown”.
He said he could not have done it without the support and encouragement of former owner Mervyn Cumber, who is renting him the boats and the space for the business.
Coni has managed the operation since the 1980s when it was owned by Don Foster himself. He plans to keep the name and the identity.
“I think we have a lot of customers and supporters for many years that want us to come back,” said Coni.
After more than three decades at the dive and snorkel business, he said he was upset when the closure of the business was announced.
“I cried a lot, not only because of losing the job and the uncertainty of that, but this place and the people are very dear to me. That is the reason I want it to continue.”
Though he had talked with owner, Cumber, about the possibility of taking on the business previously, he said he didn’t have the resources to do it without his support.
The shop is selling off its remaining merchandise and will close, while the office space will also be rented out.
The shore diving business, pool and deck, will remain the headquarters of the slimmed down business.
Coni said he wants to teach divers about Cayman’s reefs and the behaviours of the animals that live here.
He believes there is an interest from divers to learn more about the world they are watching through their masks.
“I think in general a lot of the dynamics of tourism are changing. It is becoming more experiential,” he said.
For now the business will continue with just Coni and two other staff members.
Jonathan Rivers, a boat captain and dive master, said he was delighted when he was told the business was making a comeback.
He was sorting and labelling tanks at the dive shop last week ready for the reopening.
“I was happy when I found out because I like working with these guys. It is a little family here. I will be here as long as he (Sergio) needs me,” he said.
Longer term, Coni hopes to be able to re-employ more of the previous Don Foster’s staff. But he said it would be smaller and dedicated only to divers.
“I am doing this holding my breath and with potentially dire consequences if I fail,” he said.
“I don’t have a lot of resources but I took the choice to go for it because I have a lot of support.
“I know there will be hardship, but if I can pay the bills and provide another option for diving in Cayman I will be happy.”
Though he has managed the business for more than 30 years, he knows he is entering a new world as an owner and as a someone reliant on the tourism industry in the post COVID-19 world.
“The obstacles are tremendous, but I just try to look forward. I do believe that the unknown is full of possibilities and that is where I go now – into the unknown, full of possibilities.”