The shopkeepers, the owners of mini marts, parlours, and bakeries are the life blood of every community in T&T. But they don’t get the credit that they deserve. Where I am in Mt Lambert our shops have not been any different from other small business places. Essentially they are and were not just places for the sale of goods but they provided environments where neighbours exchanged news and views. Within every shop, there were memorable stories—inspirational, depressing, amusing or tragic.
Going through the history of shopkeepers in Mt Lambert is like painting a portrait of life in this close-knit residential community that was created out of a portion of the Aranguez Estate. A lot of information came from older residents and the Facebook pages. “the Mt Lambert Posse” and “yuh know yuh from Mt Lambert when…” and my own recollection.
Africans played a significant role in Mt Lambert’s shopkeeping. One of the earliest sellers was Mr James who supplied ice on the Circular Road.
Younger people may not know how important selling ice was, but before there were refrigerators, most homes had an icebox. Ours was made of wood and lined with “tinning”. Ice in large blocks was kept inside the box to keep perishables, like milk and butter.
I remember my mother was adamant that our fridge, which replaced the icebox, should go in the kitchen, not in the drawing room where some people placed their newly acquired appliance.
Mt Lambert had a drugstore (Mr Lashley) where you went because the doctor’s office was closed in the evening. Next to him was Mr Byam’s Beer Garden, not a pub.
Ms Assoon’s “Café” at the top end of 7th Street sold haberdashery, sweets and ice cream. Mr Elcock ran his business at the eastern end of 1st Avenue. A lot of his customers were from Trinidad Match Ltd, a factory which may have been one of the oldest manufacturing businesses in the Caribbean. Ms. Blaides, Barbadian woman, was down on 6th Street. Two owners after her were Ms Sirbagee, whose daughter drowned in the San Juan River, and Mr Attai.
Garvin Thomas now owns GILLIGAR, a mini-mart at the corner of 6th Street and 1st Avenue. His customers can “make message” with comfort because his service is superb. Garvin, originally from Laventille, says he learnt the skills of running a shop from his mother who migrated from Grenada and was a vendor in Port-of-Spain. He is also pastor of the Bethlehem Trinidad House of Prayer, Eastern Main Road, Petit Bourg.
My brother, Garvin Murray and the late Sidney Green, had a vegetable stall. Nowadays there is one owned by Kendall and Anisa Woo.
The Llewellyn bakery is closed but the family still lives in the area. The twins, Brian and Alfred, are now into real estate and own properties in Mt Lambert.
But no record of shopkeeping in Mt Lambert would be complete without mentioning the Ayoung Chees, in particular, Mr Samuel and Ms Merlyn, grandparents of Anya Ayoung Chee. They built Chex Café, a landmark in Mt Lambert. Diaram (Mr Ram) and Samdaye Ramlakhan became the last owners of Chex.
Mr Gilbert Ayoung, father of Marilyn and Mathew owned the shop opposite. David Ayoung Chee’s was nearby. Mr Applewhaite (Big Apple) succeeded him followed by the Llewellyns and Fay Sutherland. David, his wife and daughters, Iing and Melan, moved to the spot which GILLIGAR eventually occupied.
Before his family finally migrated to Canada Mr Samuel Ayoung Chee presented me with his personal suanpan (counting tray) which many Chinese shopkeepers used for their calculations. It is one of my prized possessions.
Mt Lambert is about 80 years old but has not lost its appeal. As new homes are being built and new families come to the area, residents need to know about Mt Lambert’s shopkeeping legacy.