Plaza 2001 in Chaguanas is known for being one of the places to get a haircut or grab a bite to eat while shopping in the district. But that changed for shoppers and business owners on Saturday morning when the building caught fire and everyone was forced to go to their safety.
Most of the damage was done to the rear of the building and could be seen on Trial Street. The entire top floor of Plaza 2001, which has its entrance on Chaguanas main street, was gutted while the condition of the rest of the building has yet to be determined.
Around 50 tenants and employees gathered on the other side of the square and tried to comfort each other. Some of the renters estimated their damage at over $900,000, although the cost of the damage is not yet known.
Hair Solutions by Anisa owner Anisa Binda said she was deeply saddened by the loss of her livelihood as she looked at the building in tears.
“It’s very sad, things are very difficult now, so this loss is big.”
Binda said she was only a full year behind due to the Covid19 restrictions put in place in 2020 but was now expecting $300,000 in losses. She said there was no way she could earn enough in that one year to recover from this financial hole and is relying on her insurance to get back on her feet.
“I’ll just have to wait and see what happens with the insurance now and then I would take it from there because it would be really difficult to take that much money out now to start again.”
Another tenant, Ronnie Kelly, couldn’t stop staring at the flame-blackened building. Kelly, owner of Javana’s Delicious Dishes, estimated he had $6,000 in losses.
“We’ve lost so much already and business is finally picking up again after such a long time.”
Kelly said he’s planning a move but wasn’t sure where and when everything he needs to start over is in the building.
“That alone makes it 100 percent worse.”
His last hope is that his insurance will help him get his business back to life.
The condition of VR’s photo studio was unknown, but owner Roopan Ramlochan said he faces $600,000 in losses. He said his inventory is in the building where he has been in business for 22 years. Ramlochan lost computers containing editing software, cameras, videography equipment and fixtures.
“I’ve been here for 22 years and I have to start all over again. I don’t think I could because the loss and the type of equipment I have to get to run the photography business is very expensive.”
Ramlochan said his entire store was gone within minutes.
“I just came this morning (Saturday) and suddenly they said the building is on fire and there is smoke and everyone is just starting to evacuate. Within two minutes the building was filled with smoke and we’ve been outside ever since.”
His wife Veena, standing next to him with a worried face, added: “Your whole work life, everything you’ve invested in is gone in two minutes.”
All shops on Chaguanas main street were closed, leaving several street vendors without income for a few hours. A pineapple vendor, who preferred to stop by Vanessa’s, said the loss wasn’t that great for her as she had just moved to the market, which is a stone’s throw away. Another seller said his problem was the large plumes of black smoke billowing from the building. But he was glad to be back in his seat as he immediately started yelling “Eddos for sale!” when the police reopened the area.
Division fire officer Gary Sookdeo said headquarters received notification of the fire around 9 a.m. and units were greeted upon arrival with the roaring fire and thick smoke.
“Our officers with their equipment went to work and got it under control. We had equipment from the North and South divisions.”
He said the investigation was ongoing and the cause of the fire had not yet been determined.
Chaguanas Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCIC) President Richie Sookhai said it is a sad and difficult time for business owners, especially in the wake of the pandemic and just ahead of the school reopening on Monday.
“That this is happening now is quite unfortunate and we hope there is some kind of support, particularly from the state, for these individuals.”
Sookhai urged those who are now unemployed to submit their applications to the CCIC and said they would try to help as much as possible.