STREET BEAT: Rum shops credit crunch
As part of the Nation Publishing Company’s 50th anniversary of Independence Celebrations, the WEEKEND NATION is dedicating the Street Beat column to a staple of Barbadian life – the rum shop – as we Fire A Shot For 50.
TIMES HAVE changed and the rum shop is changing too. As we continue to take a look at rum shops in 2016, this fact continues to be made clear.
In Belleplaine, St Andrew, owner of the East Coast café, Joyce Best, lamented how the entire area was not what it once was. She said it hurt her to think about it so she did not even want to speak. However, she did say this: “In the old days we had real rum shops but not now. The older people pay but now people are coming crying for credit and when you next see them, they ducking. That causes a lot of shops to go down,” she said.
Her son, Rodney Best, agreed somewhat but added it was that same willingness to extend credit that differentiated the small shop from big businesses and lent to the island’s “aesthetic” beauty.
“A small shop would more credit a customer than a large supermarket, where if you are a few cents short, you have to put back the item. A lot of people tend to run to supermarkets and when they run low on food they come to me asking for credit.
“There is still a place for the small shop in Barbados; it is a part of our culture and heritage. Some visitors are looking for this kind of environment rather than the westernised aspect which takes away the true essence of the local shop,” he said.
Best gave a brief history of the area during the 1980s. He said there were numerous shops then.
“In Belleplaine alone we had “doc” in the pharmacy; Hersie Smith; KD; Mrs Small and here and from that list only KD and us still here although other shops pop up and close down since,” he said.
As for the changing face of rum shops, he said this was nothing new for St Andrew.
“In St Andrew, the rum shop was always a store, a place both for drinking alcohol as well as for other things like buying groceries. There was never any ‘rum shop rum shop’ around,” he said.
However, Best admitted business was down. He said ever since entities such as the Barbados Water Authority, the Transport Board, the Claytone brick factory and the sand quarry either moved or shut, things had not been the same.
“Even so, we still got repeat customers who come because we are secluded and a peaceful spot. Mostly its fellas who come from work to relax and then go home,” he said.
From the country the team visited an urban shop, the well known Quimby Bar in Bush Hall Yard Gap. Owner Ashton Quimby himself was there and told the team how rum shops had to change to survive.
“The traditional rum shop cannot survive now like before. I carried only rum for years but now I sell a li’l bit of everything. All the shops paint in different colours now and you don’t hear names like Quimby’s shop anymore, you hear about the Banks shop and the Hennessy shop,” he said
His daughter Giselle was also there. She represents the next generation which will take the shop forward.
“I’ve been working here for eight years now and I want to carry on my father’s legacy. I plan to modernise it more, perhaps separate the bar and the grocery sections. We will survive,” she said.
Giselle said Barbadian culture was changing, which was why the old rum shops were forced to change as well. She said in the old days, people would call for a shot of rum and play dominoes and cards and socialise but modern youth would come, buy something and leave. Even so, she said there were still groups of men who come on evenings to “play cards, drink and talk junk”.
Trevor Blackman is one of those men. He said he had been coming to Quimby’s for almost 40 years and recalled when it was the stomping ground for the Combermere Old Scholars hockey team, adding the shop had survived a fire back in 1985 and was now bigger than ever.
Country, then city and now something in between, with the much beloved Connell’s Bar in Ellerton, St George. Antoinette Carter expressed her affection for the shop.
“I born and find this shop here and I’m 63 but it was across the road then. The old man, Leon Connell, ran the place but he died and left it to his niece and now it is being rented. Back then, everything was different, the windows and everything.
“Years ago it was better with the old fellas. Sometimes 2 or 3 a.m. people would still be in here playing cards. Times have changed but I still love coming in here. Whenever I look through my window I like to see the place open, whether people in it or not. I would feel real bad if it ever shut. If I had the money, I would buy it myself. I love it,” she said.
Proprietor Jamal Blackett said business was slow but picked up on weekends when people would come and buy a drink and play dominoes and cards. He said he felt they needed to provide for some entertainment if they were to survive.