Bermuda’s retail sector is in for an epic fight of their economic survival as more businesses fold in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Within the past few months more than a few businesses packed it in, including the Somerset Country Squire, after 33 years, Spot Restaurant and most recently Leisure Time, which will cease operations at the end of the month.

That coupled with the announcement on Thursday of 51 redundancies by Butterfield Group and the extended closure of Fairmont Southampton for 18 months makes for an even longer unemployment line in Bermuda.

“Roughly half of the positions impacted” at Butterfield Group are based in Bermuda.

And it’s no secret that the island’s economy was struggling long before this global pandemic.

Asked how the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce (BCC) is viewing all of this and how they will tackle the issues at hand moving forward, head of the Retail Division, Lorraine Shailer said: “It is of course always disappointing to see another retailer or restaurant closure.

“The retail sector has been experiencing difficulty for some time as you mentioned and the problems have been further compounded as a result of COVID-19 and all the economic problems it has brought with it.

“Being completely closed for six weeks and in some cases longer, is bound to take a toll on any business,” she said.

“The nature of our business continues to evolve and change and we are all working hard to continually adapt in order to survive.”

On that note Ms Shailer said: “The Chamber Retail Division has and continues to advocate on behalf of its membership with The Ministry of Finance, putting forward concrete suggestions to how Government can help our sector without creating an additional burden to the Government purse strings.

“The Chamber has also carried out a foot survey to provide Government and the public with real data on the impact of Covid-19 and local business. This survey is due to be repeated in November  and Q2 2021.

The survey of 558 local businesses was carried out between July 29 and August 19 that were temporarily closed, or operating on reduced hours as a result of this global pandemic.

The breakdown:

Food and beverage: fully open 60 percent, permanently closed 5 percent, temporarily closed 8 per cent, reduced hours 27 percent.

Personal care: fully open 85 percent, permanently closed 5 percent, temporarily closed 2 percent, reduced hours 8 percent.

Clothing: fully open 50 per cent, permanently closed 11 percent, temporarily closed 7 percent, reduced hours 32 percent.

Specialty: fully open 42 per cent, permanently closed 3 per cent, temporarily closed 18 per cent, reduced hours 37 percent.

Kendaree Burgess, CEO at the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, said: “The Chamber of Commerce is pleased to be able to share this valuable and important information with its members and the broader businesses community.

“The survey provides a great insight across a broad range of business in Bermuda. The impact of Covid-19 on local business is unmistakable and we will continue to advocate on their part.

“The Chamber will repeat the survey later in the year and again in the spring of 2021 to provide a more fulsome study on the impact of Covid-19 on local business.”

Ms Shailer added: “We are also working on a #chooseBDA campaign to help build and protect our economy for a better future.”

Meanwhile, the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce was scheduled to host a webinar on Thursday (October 14) on ;Facing Insolvency: Considerations for Owners’ and Directors via Zoom. It has been rescheduled to November.

The webinar was designed for “persons with financial and overall responsibilities for the financial health and welfare” of their businesses including “identifying insolvency signals, fiduciary duties and responsibilities in a potential insolvent situation, process options and the liquidation process”.

Ms Burgess noted that “although it can be a challenging and sensitive topic, the reality is that many businesses have been severely impacted by COVID-19 and are seeking support and direction to enable them to make the best decisions for the businesses they manage”.

Speakers included Mike Penrose, from KPMG in Bermuda and Rhys Williams from Conyers, Dill & Pearman, who reviewed the steps businesses should take to protect themselves in the insolvency process.

As the economic impact of this global pandemic rages on, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that even more businesses will be faced with insolvency moving forward.