More than two hundred small business owners affected by the fire at Savalalo Market last Saturday face an uncertain future but they remain hopeful.
That was the general consensus among the group after their latest meeting yesterday.
Held at the Vaitele Market, the business owners met with the Chief Executive Officer of the Samoa Land Corporation, Peseta Afoa Tiotio, who assured them that the government is looking at options to help them restart their businesses.
Close to 300 flea markets, food stalls and shops went up in smoke last Saturday when a fire ripped through the market. As a result, more than 200 businesses owners have been left with nothing. And with schools starting next week, the majority of them are worried about the future of their children and families.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi said the government is considering the different “kinds of possible assistance for the future of all small business operators affected by the fire.”
Yesterday, Peseta revealed that part of the plan includes the setting up of a temporary flea market, which should be ready by next week.
As for financial assistance, she said: “Cabinet is yet to make a decision on it as they are meeting this morning (yesterday) to discuss that.
“But there are other markets available for us to make use of like this market (Vaitele), Chan Mow, Ah Liki market and others.”
Speaking on behalf of the business owners, the President of the Savalalo Flea Market Small Business Society, Leulua’iali’i Rosemary Va’aulu, said their most urgent need is starting capital since most of their stock have been destroyed.
“We have voiced that concern with Peseta and she has assured that the government is mindful of it,” said Leulua’iali’i. “We are thankful about the urgency of the government’s response. We are also aware of the other markets available. Some of us are interested and will use that opportunity.”
Stall owners welcomed the government’s plan. Fauali’i Pokati Apineru said it doesn’t matter if the government provides assistance in the form of loans.
“I just want something to restart my business again even if it’s a loan,” said Fauali’i.
“The bad thing about what happened is it happened during the time when visitors are returning overseas and our sales normally spike at this time. Most of the money we had collected was spent on purchasing more stocks. Now there is nothing.
Another businesswoman, Simolo Masele, said all her stock was burnt and she has been left with no money to buy materials for her elei business.
For Emi Belford – Matau, she took issue with suggestions that they move to Vaitele.
“Look at it there is no business – it’s a dead horse,” said the mother who operated two stalls in the Savalalo market. “I prefer the Savalalo area because it is where all the businesses are and it’s convenient for everyone from all the corners of Upolu. No one wants to do business in an empty space.”
There were also concerns raised by shop owners about how they can operate in an open temporary market that has no shelves and fridges.
Luamanuvae Gaugau Mateo and his wife Salafai Ah Tong owned a store at the Savalalo market. Luamanuvae acknowledged the assistance from government and said whatever support they are given what is important is to ensure that all business owners are receiving some help.
He made it clear that every business owner at the Savalalo market all had their own share of paying rents and the temporary market should accommodate for store owners as well.
His wife added as long as the small businesses are sustained – the thousands of families depending on it also have their future sustained.
“If you look at it, the Savalalo market was where most of the low income families would go to for low cost goods,” said Mrs. Ah Tong. “They sold products at a reasonable price, handicrafts and even school uniforms being sewn there. It’s very important that the businesses are sustained.”
Another stall owner, Muliau Isa Hosea said the idea of a temporary market is good but there is also its downside.
“It would be no different from how it used to be infront of Eveni where we carry luggage filled with products and carry it back home after work hours,” said Muliau.
If the temporary market opens next week, it still leaves a lot of questions for the food stall owners like Lilomaiava Fana about how they can cook food in the open space.
“I think we are the ones that have that question mark on,” said Lilomaiava.
“Making food means we have to have equipment like oven, dishes and ensure that the way food is being prepared is in line with the Health sector guidelines.
“Our kind of business has to be health conscious and the bigger problem is most of the market venues like Fugalei market and others do not allow food stalls…the only thing we can do is to prepare food from home and bring them to the temporary market.”
But perhaps one of the main problems faced by business owners is the fact most of them depended on their stalls to fund their children’s school fees.
Vaiasa Sam Ling, a father of three, said that is his biggest concern at this stage.
One of his daughters attends Fa’atuatua College and the school fee for one term is $600.
Mr. Sam Ling said his business had always been where the money comes from to pay for his children’s school fees.