‘Any colour but black’ – Republic Street shop owners

Shop owners complain about black boards used during road works on Republic Street but GRTU says they forewarned owners of the procedure.

The dark passageway pedestrians have to walk down to enter shops along Republic Street.
The dark passageway pedestrians have to walk down to enter shops along Republic Street.

Walking past the Presidential Palace on Republic Street in Valletta, one will immediately be greeted by black boards fencing in workers servicing the road.

Pavements have been halved with the boards to reduce dust from entering the businesses along that part of the road while allowing pedestrians and potential customers to squeeze along past the shops.

Feeling less positive about the road works, the manager of his family’s business J. Piccinino Ltd, Matthew Piccinino, said the boards were negatively affecting an already bad situation.

“It’s obviously negatively affecting business for now but in the long run, it should be good. I mean our situation in general is quite negative due to the overall financial situation at the moment but these black boards have simply made it worse. The boards cover our shops up and it’s very hard for us to have consignments delivered to the shop because the vans can’t pass through,” Piccinino said.

A salesperson working at A.C. Aquilina Booksellers felt frustrated because of the black boards making the environment feel dull and ugly.

“They could have used any other colour but black. It’s like the sun never shines. I would have preferred it if they had put fences up. All I see when I look outside my shop is, literally, black,” she said.

The saleswoman also felt that they chose the wrong season for the works to be done since many of the shops rely on tourists during the peak month of summer.

“It has affected business for sure. August is normally the best month for business but right now, we can’t even see the other side of the road. They warned us a week or two before they started the works, but we had no warning about the black boards,” she complained.

Feeling claustrophobic, the saleswoman has started sticking newspaper posters and pictures of colourful places to give the black boards some colour. “They could have used white boards instead. I want to keep putting up newspapers and eventually have a collage showing everything that happened throughout this period of time.”

The view seen from the saleswoman from inside the shop; she has taken to sticking posters and colourful cutouts to make view a little more cheerful. 

Joe Brown, owner of Muscat minimarket, said he couldn’t really complain and has only slightly been affected by the boards.

“At the end of the day, we will benefit from it when it’s finished. I mean, they could have used transparent boards instead of these black ones, but it’s only temporary. I also have to say thanks to the police who have been very collaborative. We just have to be patient,” Brown said while advertising free cold drinks to passing tourists.

A senior executive of the Chamber of SMEs' (GRTU), Carmen Borg, said that they had gone around to each and every shop with an architect to describe what would be done before works began. “If they had used natural hording or green netting, the dust would have seeped through the netting making it worse for the restaurants and the shops. If the dust gets into the restaurants, they may not be able to open or be closed down due to health and safety hazards,” Borg explained.

She added that works began yesterday and will last for seven weeks after being scheduled to take place for three years.

“They had to wait for parliament to go on recess for the holidays to start. It took a lot of work but everyone was warned beforehand. With regards the boards, they have the possibility of covering the boards with stickers if they want to,” Borg said.

The services road-to-be had to be started “from scratch” and the pavements will have to be redone and brought to the same level as the rest of the road.

“Shops will be fully accessible all throughout the process. Most of the restaurants have not complained because the work has to be done and this is the ideal time to do it for several reasons, including parliament and weather,” Borg said.

However, Margo’s Claude Camilleri said that no one consulted the restaurant regarding plans, objectives or even schedules.

“One day, I came in and my restaurant was 'gone'. I don’t want to complain but the timing is very poor for us. It’s perfect for politicians who are on break and will not miss their parking spaces which are reserved for them,” Camilleri said.

Camilleri added that the period of time selected for the road works was unfair for all the other businesses which could only make a profit during the summer months.

“They work all year for these two months so, it’s very unfair on all of us. Life goes on but we are currently working on 10% of normal business. We used to have 50 or 70 people in for lunch. We are only getting five or seven at the moment so it's not even worth opening," Camilleri said, "But, I will survive like Gloria Gaynor. Others will too, but this is not the way to do things in a civilised society, but we all know that if we want that, then we have to go somewhere else."

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