MERIELA GOVIA, a Venezuelan living in TT for over 33 years, is passionate about keeping Tobago's local art and craft industry alive. The owner of Bambu souvenir store at Store Bay Local Road said she provides an avenue for the island's handicraft artists to gain exposure and make a living.
Govia told Newsday she buys items from local craftsmen and then sells them in her store.
She said 80 per cent of the store's products are locally made and the rest are imported. The store has an array of ceramics, recycled bamboo and calabash decor, handmade household boutiques, clothing, and art and crafts. These souvenirs attract international and domestic visitors, but for a year now, she lamented, sales have been slow.
She is hopeful that with the addition of the Jean de la Valette fast ferry to complement the current fleet on the seabridge, there will be increased arrivals on the island.
“We need more exposure; we need more flights, even our interisland transport needs to improve because right now the Trinis still don’t want to come over here because they don’t want to be stranded in the middle of the port."
Speaking to Newsday on Friday, she said the last time her store was full of customers was close to two years ago.
"Right now is Summer and no one has opened the door for the day.”
She said the involvement of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) is necessary as there can be a lucrative market, if developed properly.
Govia said she has volunteered in the past to display local work for free in the store.
She recommended that the THA provide a designated area in Crown Point for handicraft.
"Tobago has its charisma and its people. I got to know a lot of handicraft people that have a lot of talent and products right here in Tobago. We have plenty potential and I give them a chance to make a living on whatever little talent they can do. I am hoping they will find a way to encourage more to come to Tobago. If they do, many businesses like mine and the others I assist will be saved.”
Govia said she tried marketing through small events and exhibitions at the shop but the store still struggles to stay open.
In the past she owned five shops in Trinidad and one in Tobago, before opening Bambu two years ago. She said she has been selling local arts and craft for 28 years as “it was the only thing I could see myself doing."
She is unsure what the next step will be if more visitors don’t come to Tobago.
“Since I moved here it really has been a lovely change in the sense of the pressures and crimes in Trinidad but Tobago needs more foot traffic, so that unique businesses like mine can survive. It’s not only me suffering, it’s many others.”