Published On: Wed, Dec 12th, 2012

Merchants in Punda wants to attract famous brands

WILLEMSTAD – The managers of several large businesses in Punda have met to discuss the future of the city center, said Penha-director Kevin Jonckheer. “We want to make Punda healthy again”, he said. Freeport, Boolchands, Tommy Hilfiger and Athlete’s Foot are among those attending this meeting. On Curaçao, Penha will be drop twenty of the over one-hundred jobs. Despite this, Penha will open a Victoria’s Secret shop on Heerenstraat in Punda this month. “The plans for this shop were already on the table before 10-10-’10, said Jonckheer. “The arrival of this brand may well be the beginning of an upgrade of Punda, considering brands attract brands and this afternoon we’ll discuss how to attract more famous brands to Punda.”

Within short time, twenty people will have to leave the concern, which also has branches on Curaçao in Saliña, Zuikertuin Mall, Renaissance Mall and the Hyatt – besides ‘Penha Punda’ in the characteristic building on Handelskade –  and a Penha Eyewear, a Penha Cosmetics and a Mont Blanc shop. The luxurious department store also has businesses on Aruba, St. Maarten and the Cayman Islands. In total, the concern has 250 employees. As yet Jonckheer doesn’t know which jobs will be dropped exactly. “We must reduce the number of employees considering we’ve experienced a substantial decline since September. The social burdens will increase and the costs of electricity and gasoline for example will continue to rise. We cannot pass on the sales tax increase from 5 to 6 percent under the Schotte-cabinet to our clients and as a result feel the competition from duty-free shops on cruise ships and at the airport. We no longer can speak of real margins on Curaçao; even with the sales tax increase I now pay the government considerably less.”

However, the businesses on the other islands are faring well. Jonckheer expects to open more businesses on Aruba, St. Maarten and the Cayman Islands. “If we don’t make a profit here, we’ll make it there. I don’t have a problem leaving Curaçao entirely and expanding further on Aruba.”

Jonckheer said he’s not the only one who has to economize, although he believes he’s the only one who dares to acknowledge this publicly. We see that shops are closing down, for example Little Switzerland left Punda recently. The malaise is due to Curaçao lacking a good retail policy, according to Jonckheer. There is a considerable lack of occupancy due to the number of square meters available, the rent amount must go down and the quality of the shops is getting worse. The recent political chaos certainly tarnished the image of Curaçao. As a result top-class shops no longer take a risk and investors aren’t interested. “Although Curaçao advanced before 10-10-’10; the arrival of Renaissance and Hyatt improved the image, but all of this was undone in no-time.”

Then of course there’s the Sambil mega mall. According to an impact study from the government, this mall wouldn’t lead to any competition for Punda and Otrobanda, providing tourism on Curaçao continues to grow. This impact study also mentioned that Sambil would yield approx. 1000 jobs. Jonckheer has a different view. “Actually, jobs will be lost due to Sambil, the way things are going now. Besides a growth in tourism the entire population of Curaçao must increase to 300,000 or 400,000.” Although Sambil hadn’t approached Penha, Jonckheer thinks he could open a small branch once the shopping mall is ready. He will probably deploy personnel from his other businesses. “The government should pursue a sound economic policy to get the dollars pouring in again. Tourism must grow with tapping new markets, such as the Chinese; the offshore sector must return; the people must become richer and we must create a climate that attracts a brand like Gucci to Curaçao instead of to Aruba.”

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