Chap’s Complains About City Hall’s Street Works Belize City is undergoing transformation at an unprecedented pace – as the city council drives towards 100 paved streets in one and a half years.
And during this process, the tired old cliché, has probably never been more applicable: Progress does bring problems. All over the city, merchants have to contend with streets that are closed for extended periods – and during that time they see their sales plummet.
One restaurant owner is grappling with that – and he says he may not be able to survive the downswing. We found out more at Chap’s Restaurant and Bar, in the Pickwick Club compound:..
Jules Vasquez reporting
Christian Riveroll is standing at the entrance to his Restaurant 'Chap's' because he has no customers inside to attend to. And if you want to know why you can see the dust clouds wafting past him.
He says the those clouds are about to put him out of business:
Christian Riveroll - Proprietor, Chaps
"We are in a position now where things have gotten ciritcal for us."
Critical because of this, the street, Newtown Barracks which used to be one of Belize’s best and a popular night-time strip, but it was demolished 3 weeks ago, and now, it looks like a village road and is kicking up dust accordingly.
Add the sea breeze to that and all the dust blows right into Riveroll’s open air Restaurant. It was designed to capture the sea breeze, but now it’s just accumulating dust, same for the adjoining Pickwick Pool:
"Our sales have dropped down to half or less than half in some cases from where they were just a couple months ago. We have very loyal customers who patronize us and even them have come and have said 'we want to come to your establishment but the dust is just so incredibly bad that we can't come' - it's uncomfortable, it's unhygienic and we can't continue like this. If the sales are so low and our customers are uncomfortable when they're here because of the dust - we are slowly going out of business."
And what’s more worrying is that work has stopped
"And my understanding is that we're looking somewhere to the end of October or into November before they complete this street and I'm telling you if that continues - there will be no Chap's by November - it's that bad right now."
"It's particularly bad today - because?"
"Well we had rains over the weekend and that helped and then that created potholes and then that helped because vehicles were now forced to go very slow along the street because of the potholes and now this morning the City Council decides to grade the street. So the street is nice and smooth now (with dust) and so vehicles that were going 10 or 15 miles per hour are now going 50 miles an hour up and down this street."
So, for the time being, all Riveroll can do is keep up a strict regimen of wiping and mopping in the restaurant, with a power washer on the street:
"We're at a point now where it's at least every half an hour - we have to go through and wipe each table down, the floor is mopped four of five times a day now to just keep things at some semblance of cleanliness and even so we clean it and it is just five minutes later you can already see the dust just coming back - it's hard to even keep up, it's really bad.
I had to hire someone who stands out in front of Chap's all day and just sprays water to try and keep the dust down - and even that doesn't help. As the sun is so hot, you spray one area - within a few minutes it is dry and then the dust picks up again."
"When the street is finished - I understand they will do just an extension of the park - it will be stamp concrete and it should be quite lovely."
"But in the meantime people cannot be suffering this bad for months on end. Business cannot survive without sales months on end - I was prepared to take two or three weeks 'lick' - I don't mind 2 or 3 weeks, I think it's great what they're doing but if we're going months on end then we can't survive it."
And now he’s making a please to City Hall:
"Start working on the street, start getting it fixed. What's the delay? Why is there no work going on the street for the last three weeks? We need something to be done if we are to survive this."
"Today is Payday- do you have a tough time making payroll?"
"It's very tough and I was explaining that to my staff earlier that it is getting harder every week to meet salaries because of the lack of business that we've been experiencing for more than a month now."
And while he prays for some intervention, Riveroll also reached out to his customers:
"We're going to clean as much as we need to clean - the service and the food has not dwindled at all - we still maintain a very high standard in food and that is why we found it so necessary to speak to you today - to show the people that we are trying our very best in such a tough situation to keep our doors open."
The City Council says they only graded the street because the carnival road march will use the area as a finishing point next week. They say that indeed work has stopped temporarily but should resume after the Carnival. We note that the same contractor is working on Baymen Avenue and progress on that street has also stopped.