MONTEGO BAY, St James — After losing his 34-year-old business in last Sunday’s fire at the Montego Bay Shoe Market, former outstanding St James cricketer Chester Sterling is vowing to rise like a phoenix from the ashes.
Sterling, who sold both brand-name shoes and clothing items from the downtown Montego Bay-based shoe market popularly known as the “Arcade”, was a beacon of hope as he spoke to the Jamaica Observer on Friday afternoon.
Detailing that he woke from his early morning slumber after getting a phone call stating the devastating news, Sterling, who coaches cricket part-time, is already seeking ways to carry on the business that he operated with his wife Francis Davis-Sterling.
“I was at home. I am living about five miles away from the centre of the town. I was awoken by a friend who told me that she heard that there was a fire at the arcade. That was about 2:30 am. When I got to the arcade it was completely engulfed with fire. There was nothing I could do at that point” Sterling told the Sunday Observer.
He continued, “I intend to continue doing my business, so I just have to pick up the pieces – but there is nothing to pick up from there because I lost everything. Nothing was saved. However, I plan to restock my business and with the help of God, I think I will come back from this.”
Up until last week, Sterling had been plying his wares from a board structure inside the arcade since 1989 and he has not been discouraged by the fire. He, however, is hoping that he can resume operation to cushion the blow of the loss his family has recently experienced.
Sterling told the Sunday Observer that the loss from his business was approximately $50 million.
“I am trying to put a little thing together to see that we get stock. Normally my wife does all the shopping in Miami and England, so she should be going shortly to see what can be done before Christmas,” said Sterling.
In the meantime, the businessman explained that he is mostly concerned about where he will sell, since he no longer has a physical location.
“Now the problem is, I don’t like the streets – I do not sell on the street, so I am actually cleaning up my space to see if I can at least use a tent. But from what I am hearing from the [St James Municipal Corporation], they don’t want us to go back there,” Sterling told the Sunday Observer.
He said that he is still hoping to speak with a representative from the municipal corporation in the hope of appealing for some leniency, especially since the Christmas season is fast approaching and consumers regularly purchase from the shoe market during that period.
“I intend to talk to someone in the political arena at the parish council to see if they could at least allow us to use the area up until Christmas, because I understand that they have plans to rebuild,” said Sterling.
When questioned about the source of his strength and positive outlook on this major financial loss, Sterling told the Sunday Observer that his wife Francis has been his backbone.
“This woman is a lion. She is stronger than I am because when I looked at the situation on Sunday, I had to cry. She was like, ‘come on, daddy’ and right until now, she is fighting. She is already putting every plan in place and telling me that we have to find some way to do things,” he said.
In addition to that, it is evident that the businessman will not give up on the operation that has been the source of financial support for his family over the last three decades. He said that his three children have benefitted from him selling clothing and shoes for the arcade.
“This is how we financed them through school. Both boys went to Cornwall College and also the University of the West Indies,” said Sterling.
As it relates to other business operators who lost their shops and goods in the fire, Sterling said they, too, were all trying to pick up the pieces.
“Some people are very desperate because that was their only source of income, so some people are left with nothing. I don’t even know how to describe the situation right now, but I can say that they are desperate,” said Sterling.
“Everybody is hoping that they would at least be able to use the area up until Christmas and then the [municipal corporation] could come in and clean up or whatever they want to do. We are also willing to assist with the cleaning up,” he added.
When contacted by the Sunday Observer, Acting Mayor of Montego Bay Councillor Richard Vernon stated that the municipal corporation met with the affected vendors on Friday morning to discuss plans to move forward.
Vernon shared that the vendors were receptive to a proposed plan of rebuilding the 150-shop shoe market over the next three months. He said that during that time, the vendors will not be able to utilise the location; however, they will be greeted with an improved space once completed.