As covid19 cases explode nationally, the Government has sought to reduce the rate of infections by shutting down certain sectors of the economy to restrict the movement of people.
It is a brutal blow to business owners who have been taking a financial hit for well over a year.
The latest restrictions have seen all retail outlets, excepts groceries, pharmacies and other essential services, closed until May 23.
Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis said the measures are being accompanied by social support in the form of $25 million. The Prime Minister recently announced a financial aid package of $50 million to help those affected.
But some Tobago business owners are not waiting for handouts. Two clothing vendors, closed at least until May 23, have decided to change their business operations to become essential. They are now fruit and vegetable vendors. It is a drastic pivot some Trinidad retailers are also doing to survive.
Obliquely opposite the port compound in Scarborough is 36-year-old Devanan Boodram, a father of four. Boodram, originally from Chaguanas in Trinidad, said he has been living in Tobago over five years.
“I have been selling clothes since I was 18 years – selling fruits is the only way at this time that you can see a dollar," he said.
“I have my four children, I have my wife – the house need rice, the house need flour, it need chicken, them children need things. So at the end of the day, what can I do to get a dollar; I have to sell something.”
Boodram said the switch in industries has not been lucrative, but it puts food on the table.
He said, “At the end of the day, the profits would not be full 100 per cent, but half of bread better than no bread at all. This is the only way we can eat right now because I cannot sell clothes – $50,000 fine (if caught), I don’t have that; I would have to sit down in the people jail. Where I finding the money to pay that, so I lock off the clothes and I fighting up with the fruits. I had a fruit stall before, so I know about the fruit hustle.”
He said his business became operational the day after the restriction against retail outlets was announced by Dr Rowley and sales have been good enough for him.
“I not greedy – $200, $150, I good with that because I could buy a piece of chicken, I could buy rice, I could buy some flour. I doh want to stay home and them children bawling in my ears, ‘Daddy I hungry,' and I know to myself it ent have nothing because I didn’t go out there.
"So, I is a man going out there and fight to make sure and try get a dollar as small as it is, whatever God gives me to mind my family.”
He added: “I out here from 8am, when I see 7pm reach I does start to pack up because I don’t want no problems with the police, whatever small I make I run in the grocery.”
He said added to his family, he also has his monthly expenses which includes his apartment rent to pay.
“The landlord real lenient. I take my rent money and invest it in fruits, just to try a thing and I pray and pray and ask God to help me.”
He added: “I am not against the Prime Minister, if he feels what he doing is the right thing and it could help Trinidad and Tobago...If that’s the case and Trinidad and Tobago has to be like this – fine.”
Anthony Durham, owner of Gold Teeth Fashion, originally from Chaguanas, but living in Tobago for the past 19 years, has also changed his business.
Durham had a popular clothing store on Canaan Road but was forced to close. He previously complained to Newsday about the restrictions, arguing that he had done everything asked and implemented all health protocols including signs, strict mask policy, sanitiser and temperature guns.
He has also got into the fruit vending business.
Durham said, “It’s something new to me; you know, it's perishables – but I just trying to pay my bills and keep food on the table.”
He said his entrepreneurial spirit came from his mother, who was a businesswoman.
“I had a mini mart in Trinidad, but many people don’t know this side of me so when I transform I see people passing and videotaping, but I grow up in business. Business is what I know. My training that I got in the past, it's working for me now.”
Durham, who had four employees last year but trimmed to two, said he's still trying to keep them hired.
"They still getting a little thing, and life goes on.”
Tobago Business Chamber president Martin George said he understands the actions of these small businesses.
He said, "At the end of the day, the essence of business survival is flexibility and adaptability. If people have to make that adjustment to keep that income flowing, one can't fault them."
He said while the aim is to save lives during the pandemic, it was also important to save livelihoods.
He added, "I see nothing wrong once you're not not breaking the law and you ensure patrons coming to businesses are observing the health protocols."