The members of the Belize Producers, Farmers and Vendors Association (BPFVA) and the Belize City Council and residents of the area surrounding the old Queen’s Square Market and the new Michael Finnegan Market bucked heads in the middle of last year over overcrowding and sanitation concerns until a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed in June, outlining the process of vending for farmers/producers.
Since then, the problem has subsided somewhat, but vendors are still not completely satisfied.
Now, the Association believes it has hit upon a solution to the problem, by relocating its members — the wholesale vendors who provide the majority of goods to retail stalls inside the market and to other entities such as restaurants and hotels, and who also did retail vending on the side with their excess goods, to the old City Council compound on Cemetery Road near the Pound Yard Bridge, which had previously hosted retail vendors operating in the Queen’s Square/Michael Finnegan Markets while the new market was under construction last year.
Chairman of the Association, Alvin Hyde, Jr., spoke to Amandala on Saturday at his business place, Astar Hyde Supermarket, which occupies the old space of the Queen’s Square Market.
Hyde told us that special constables working for the Belize City Council have been at times strictly enforcing the rules and removing vendors at inopportune times, causing them loss of business; at other times they have been lax, causing continued overcrowding, and even wastage and spoilage of food.
As many as 20 wholesale vendors sometimes jockeyed for positions on the canal side and on Hicatee and Bocotora Streets, with that number dipping slightly on off-days.
The Council says it wants all wholesale vendors off the West Collet Canal and Hicatee Street space, moving either into the old compound, or behind Astar Hyde.
After negotiations with the businessman owner of the old City Council compound, Arun Hotchandani, it was agreed that a new facility hosting 57 stalls would be built specifically for the wholesalers. For the time being, a number of temporary canvas stalls are set out on the property while construction, which began on Tuesday of last week, takes place and continues to the end of February.
Hyde told us that the Association had as many as 88 registered members, but some drifted away, making a long-term plan to buy the Hotchandani property for the usage of the Association not viable. Hotchandani instead agreed to the building of the new facility, and will charge rent of $20 per vendor per day.
Hyde insists that this new facility could not possibly compete with the retail-only Michael Finnegan Market. The purpose of the facility is to facilitate the Michael Finnegan Market’s retail vendors, many of whom buy from the wholesalers, and then the wholesale vendors get an opportunity to do retail with their excess, which they could not do on Hicatee Street and the canal side because of complaints from the retail vendors inside the Michael Finnegan Market.
The wholesale vendors are working out an arrangement with Belize Waste Control to be responsible for their own garbage, and depending on the space available, another phase may be built. Hyde says he will have a branch of his business at the premises as well.
It is, said Hyde, a “common sense solution” to a public relations problem for the Council and a problem of living and working for his association’s members.
According to Hyde, the vendors were told that their MOU with the Council, which expires in June, would be voided if they moved. Councilor with responsibility for markets, Philip Willoughby, clarified that the vendors are still under the terms of the MOU until they move, and even at the new facility, they would still pay trade license and property tax fees to the Council.
But the Council welcomes the initiative, Willoughby told us, stating that the idea is to set up a “supermarket-style” central business and shopping area.
We left a message for Hotchandani with his secretary, who told us when we called that he was out of office.