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Pacific Jewell closing Plaza store

Pacific Jewell is the latest casualty of the COVID-19 downturn and will be closing its Plaza store after a free rent arrangement with the Government expired earlier this year.

Co-owner Paul Phillips said it was a hard decision to make but ultimately the small gift-shop has been haemorrhaging money since the borders closed with Pacific Jewell’s main customers, the tourist market, not able to visit Samoa.

“We rely mainly on tourists. With the lockdown and the state of emergency it is too expensive to keep it running, we can’t pay the rent,” Mr. Phillips said. 

“It wasn’t easy, but there is no alternative but to close, at least keep the one shop here in Levili.”

Mr. Phillips said the company has had to lay off staff as well as close the store, with the Levili store and café not able to keep everyone employed on full salaries either.

He could not detail exactly how many staff has had to leave, as the process continues even today. 

Luckily for the family, the Levili gift shop and garden cafe are not in a rented property so will not have to close, though business there has been slow too.

“It’s not the same as before,” Mr. Phillips said.

“We have made a lot of changes to working hours, people’s time off, trying to diversify the things we do and cut down on costs to minimise the losses.

Because the town store is part of the Samoa National Provident Fund plaza, Pacific Jewell had two months of free rent, which was part of a $604,000 package in the first stimulus package. 

Mr. Phillips said that was a blessing, but now that it has run its course the store needs to close. Meanwhile, he feels there is not much support for a store like theirs, which targets tourism but is not considered a tourism or hospitality business.

Pacific Jewell does not qualify for the new wage subsidy scheme or other moratorium schemes that the Government has issued for the struggling tourism industry.

“A big help the Government could consider is helping us keep people employed somehow, through some sort of stimulus package.

“It is better to keep people employed than letting them go and giving them a $50 or whatever, or some training.”

He said he is trying to speak with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry about getting Pacific Jewell under the wage subsidy scheme and to help them further.

Businesses across the Pacific have tried to recover their poor sales by turning to the online market.  A recently published survey of 361 small and medium businesses found that nearly half of respondents have turned to the internet to boost sales.

But for Pacific Jewell getting products out across the region has been hard.

“There are not many flights going and not many people are buying, it’s only very few online sales we have got,” he said.

“It all depends on how the pandemic impacts finances everywhere in the world. There is a lot of uncertainty there but we are hoping it will improve.”

Samoa is soon entering its eighth month under a state of emergency with various restrictions on public life still in place, and the borders firmly closed to non-Samoan citizens or residents. 

Pacific Jewell is owned by Mr. Phillips and his wife Vivienne Phillips, which Mrs. Phillips began over 25 years ago. The store itself opened in 2008, with the café extension opened in 2012.

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