Five days before the greatest show on earth, vendors around the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain are unhappy. Several of them told Business Day they are being treated with disrespect.
Grace Richardson, a vendor for the past 42 years, said in all the years she has been selling at the Savannah at Carnival time, this year has been her worst experience.
“If you take a good look around you would notice that the majority of the booths are unoccupied and locked up. This is because some of the booths are unfinished and because of the sewerage problem the National Carnival Commission (NCC) is challenged with fixing, people cannot open up for sales.
“This is ridiculous. After all these years, why it is NCC cannot get it right? Every year we are faced with a different challenge or issue. Do you know since they introduced Socadrome at the (National) Stadium, vendors around here hardly get any sales?”
Richardson explained that since some of the large bands no longer go to the Savannah, spectators mostly go on Ariapita Avenue in Woodbrook to watch "pretty mas."
“When the big bands go down there, they don’t only take their masqueraders with them, they also take their spectators along. These bands also have their own drinks on the trucks.
“What adds more damage to us is that the vendors in Carnival City have the same things on sale, so now there is a competition. If you don’t have money to keep investing in these huts you can’t really open every day because money has to be spent to keep it going.”
Richardson said some of the booths have lights while some may get an extension from another vendor.
She said although she is trying to keep her business afloat and bracing all the challenges, she finds it quite amusing that no one from the NCC came to speak with the vendors.
“They have two ladies in charge of the vendors, but it is so much they can do. There are a lot of problems that need to be addressed.
“Every year, they would hire different contractors to put up these huts, take our money, then we have to spend more money to make them functional to conduct our business. This is unfair. I am glad you came to speak to us because we are left to pay a $1,500 fee and we can’t make back our money.”
Richardson called on the head of NCC Winston “Gypsy” Peters to ensure all Carnival-related events move back to the Savannah.
She said too many vendors are putting out too much money and are not given a fair chance to make a profit.
“Image not even the ice trucks come up to the Savannah during Monday and Tuesday because all the roads are block up, and they don’t try to even come close to us. How can vendors benefit? Only at Panorama time we can make some money.
“At the end of the day Carnival is the world’s show and we need to do better than that.” Richardson said.
Another vendor, who did not want to be identified, shared the same sentiments as Richardson. She called on NCC to tell the vendors why they pay for booths that are not ready for business?
“At my booth all the ground is mud and I was told the mud would dry up. I am here for the past 30 years and God alone knows how vendors battle to make some money. People would see us here and think it’s an easy job but it is not.
“They need to have people on the ground working with vendors who know what is needed and for them to take the complaints back to the heads to see if they can come up with solutions to deal with the issues.”
The vendor said most of them live in the booths to ensure no thieves enter and there is no vandalism.
She said year after year vendors are challenged with some of the same issues.
“I don't believe anything would change. They need to put people who can do the job. Meet with us, hear what we have to say. We are the ones who are out here night and day during the Carnival season.
“How can we ply our trade where we have to use the same toilet facilities with street dwellers? There is no proper security put in place to look over the booths when we are not here. They don’t know what we have to go through.”
The vendor said if management was better organised, the life of a vendor will be much easier.
She too said although they were given the keys to the booths last week, to date, most are not ready.
"People might ask, why we are still here? We can make money if the system is fair to us. It is a great place for business, but the heads need to get it right. How long do we have to complain before they put the required structures and necessities in place for us? "We look out every year for things to run smoothly, but somehow they still can't get it right. Why even put additional vendors inside the Savannah when we are out here. It is a very hard and a tiresome struggle. I don't know what to expect for next year," the vendor said.
Another vendor, who only gave her name as Marva, said her booth is one of the ones that is not ready.
"I am paying for something I cannot use. If they cannot organise for us, let us come to an agreement where another vendor can over see all the issues and ensure they get the job done to accommodate us. "This is the week before Carnival and as you can see, all I can do is sit and wait. I am unhappy in the way things turn out this year," Marva said.
When contacted, the NCC, Business Day was told by its communication department to send all questions via e-mail. Business Day did, and to date there have been no response.