St Peter's locks out craft vendors, accuses them of harassment
Janet Silvera, Hospitality Jamaica Coordinator
The Falmouth Parish Church, the St Peter's Anglican, has closed its doors to the tourism sector, citing visitor harassment by vendors outside its gates.
The church, the oldest public building in the historic town, said it was forced to take this drastic action because of harassment, unruly behaviour and defiance on the part of the vendors to pay rental fees for the spaces occupied.
"The harassment is not only bad for the church, but bad for the community," Archdeacon Justin Nembhard told Hospitality Jamaica last weekend.
The doors were closed five weeks ago and the gates three weeks ago, after one of its workers was threatened by the vendors, said a letter written by the church to the police.
Archdeacon Nembhard was uncertain of a reopening date. In the meantime, some 20 art and craft vendors have been affected as well as several cruise ship tourists, who buy the tram tour of Historic Falmouth.
According to the archdeacon, the vendors must learn to protect the product and their own welfare.
"We have to operate under certain conditions and control. We can't have harassment of the visitors on our property," he said.
Fights, he added, have occurred at the church gate between vendors, with some matters ending up in the courts.
"The fact is, it shouldn't have gone there," said the archdeacon.
The church was built in 1795 on lands donated by Edward Barrett, part of whose estate had been bought to lay out the town.
Constructed in brick and stone, the church is a good example of vernacular architecture derived from classical forms, said a description by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust. There are two galleries in the church, one to the north and the other to the west. Four massive and monumental timber columns support the roof. The monuments on the interior walls of the building date from the early 19th Century. The church organ was donated by John Tharpe Esq, the original owner of Good Hope Estate in the same parish. Graves spanning more than 200 years can be found in the churchyard.
Due to its historical value, the church has become very popular among tourists and has been listed on the tours organised by local tour operators.
According to Archdeacon Nembhard, the facility has always been an attraction, long before the port was developed in Falmouth.
"Tour operators know this and they sell it as part of their tour, we are also looking at that situation," said Nembhard, adding that it was not in the interest of anyone for the site to be closed down. "However, we can't reopen our gates until we are all on the same page."
Hospitality Jamaica understands that since the church became somewhat of a rest stop, its water bill has increased considerably and the building has been affected by the wear and tear.
A beneficiary of the Tourism Enhancement Fund, the church was given a facelift valued at millions of dollars as part of the fixing-up of the town to meet the new port eight years ago.
However, even the Tourism Product Development Company's (TPDCo's) executive director, Dennis Hickey, agrees that the church must find ways and means of sustaining itself.
"The church has to find ways and means to be sustainable so that it doesn't come back to the Government to ask for help in paying its bills," he stated, adding that it was important to establish some sort of contract or rules of engagement with the vendors.
Hickey described it as a principle based on economics. He also expressed concerns about the harassment situation, saying it has to stop.
Archdeacon Nembhard noted that the space occupied by the vendors was the church's parking lot.
"On days when there are funerals or weddings, we have no access to those areas," he stated, adding that the vendor numbers will be decreased as they are being offered contracts which they will use on a rotation basis.
It is not uncommon in the tourist industry to have art and craft vendors operate on rotation at certain resorts or on the cruise ship ports.
Going forward, the Anglican head said the vendors will be expected to display goods, littering of the area would have to stop ,and only general good behaviour would be accepted.
"The fee they now pay will also be revised in their favour, but we won't open our gates until we are on the same page," said Nembhard.
Checks with president of the Falmouth Craft Vendors Association, vadney Brown-McKeller revealed that a number of the persons plying their wares outside the church were not members of the association.
"It's the bad behaviour why they are in the current situation. However, from what I understand, the church has been behaving in a dictatorial manner," said Brown-McKeller.