Lockdown leaves Tobago vendor stressed: 'I have no options'

REFLECTING: Nattlie Hamilton, owner of Lizzy's Bake and Shark in Pigeon Point, ponders her future at Store Bay Beach Facility on Thursday. Photo by David Reid
REFLECTING: Nattlie Hamilton, owner of Lizzy's Bake and Shark in Pigeon Point, ponders her future at Store Bay Beach Facility on Thursday. Photo by David Reid

When the Prime Minister announced a return to stricter anti-covid19 measures on May 7, food vendor Nattlie Hamilton’s life was thrown into turmoil.

Her three-year-old business, Lizzy’s Bake and Shark, in Pigeon Point, did not enjoy much profit, but she was still able to pay her rent, put food on the table and generally support herself.

Now, Hamilton  is gravely concerned about her future.

“I am not motivated any more, for a number of reasons,” she said in an interview on Tuesday.

The measures Dr Rowley announced to curb the alarming spread of covid19 included restrictions on movement and non-essential activity.

As was the case during the first national lockdown in mid-March 2020, restaurateurs and food vendors were among the casualties.

The restrictions, which were supposed to end on May 23, have been extended to July 4.

To compound matters, the Government implemented a state of emergency (SoE) on May 15, which further restricts movement during curfew hours, from 9pm-5am.

The SoE  has since been extended for three months.

Hamilton, who is in her early 40s, said the business is her only source of income.

“Currently, I am not doing anything. It was my only form of income. It (covid19 restrictions) has affected me in a great way because I am a bit stagnant right now.”

Saying she is desperate, Hamilton said she has been trying to access relief support through the THA Division of Health, Wellness and Family Development.

“I tried to apply for the assistance grant a couple of days ago on my phone but I am getting some difficulty in filling out the form.”

She said a friend is helping her to complete the form online.

Hamilton told Newsday she got rental and income support during the last lockdown.

Now her landlady has already given her notice to leave her $2,000-a-month, one-bedroom apartment on Store Bay Local Road by June 7 if she cannot come up with the rent.

She said she does not blame the landlady for her stance, as she already owes her  money.

Hamilton, who is from Trinidad, moved to Tobago in 2015. She said although she has family living on the island, she does not know them well.

Nattlie Hamilton, owner of Lizzy's Bake and Shark in Pigeon Point, looks at the ocean at Store Bay Beach Facility, wondering how she is going to make it financially through the pandemic. Photo by David Reid

Hamilton said she started Lizzy’s Bake and Shark without significant capital and used the money she made to reinvest and support herself.

“I was depending on whatever I gained from the business to help me through my ups and downs.”

Although Lizzy’s Bake and Shark was a go-to spot for locals and tourists venturing to Pigeon Point or the popular, secluded beach known as the Swallows, it was established at a time when Tobago was experiencing dwindling visitor arrivals. This resulted in fewer sales.

Hamilton said since its inception, her business has been an “economic roller-coaster.

“Within the three years since I opened, I have had to close down several times because of difficulties.”

During that period, Hamilton said she was forced to work for other people to make ends meet.

She said by the time the first lockdown came into effect, “things in my business were real slow.”

The latest covid19 restrictions “has basically left me in a position of zero.

“If I had savings, I would not be in this position right now.”

Hamilton said her future does not look bright.

“I don’t have options right now – everybody is on their own.”

She is not considering returning to Trinidad at this time.

While she is willing to look for a job, she knows it will be difficult.

“People are not really hiring right now because the whole place is on lockdown.”

Ideally, she prefers to work for herself.

“But sometimes things just don’t work out how you plan it.”

At the post-executive council news conference on May 5, Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis said the THA will spend some $25 million on relief initiatives to assist vulnerable citizens who have been affected by the covid19 restrictions.

“As Chief Secretary, I want to commit to the people of Tobago that we will continue to do our part, of course, collectively as a body and even as individuals, another $25 million will be identified to continue to give that kind of assistance to the people of Tobago,” he said.

Family and counselling support hotlines have also been established at the Division of Health, Wellness and Family Development to assist vulnerable citizens with food support and rental assistance.


"Lockdown leaves Tobago vendor stressed: ‘I have no options’"

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