St. Maarten- It has been one year now since Kary’s Guesthouse on Manzinilla and Back Street was ravaged by an early morning fire of unknown origin.
The owner and operator of the 29 year old family business, Mervin Francisco Scot Jr. has been able to successful rebuild the medium sized enterprise with several improvements and a long overdue facelift. However during the one year rebuilding process, the businessman, who has also worked 22 years in maintenance at the airport, has learnt some painful lessons.
“For the direction that I see business going in St. Maarten, if you don’t personally push your business you are doomed. When I came here the place was actually going down the drain and I just started to do direct marketing and every month at least I was making close to $5000.00 or over until the fire. So now I have to go back out and do the same, I can’t wait for the politicians to give any help. Since that fire, nobody came to see what happened. My father was a respectable man in the community before he died and handed me the business. He was in politics, served as island secretary and also was head of the education department and we are well-known. But nobody ever came, not a politician, association or Chamber of Commerce, called or came to lend support or find out what happened. It’s not anything that they lost so they don’t really care about locals,” Scot Jr. opined.
He added that since that fateful August 27, 2012, he has not heard from any authority on the cause of the fire. The only time he has had any official communication from the fire department was on the day of the fire.
“No one ever told me what the cause of the fire. The fire departments, detectives nobody ever came back here and say a thing about the cause of the fire. I met a fireman about a month after the fire and he told me they don’t have anybody specialized in the fire department to investigate what actually caused the fire. They are busy preparing to send somebody to Holland to learn about that. I tried to follow up but after I see it was like a dead case, I didn’t bother to go after a dead case. It makes no sense.”
Scot Jr. said that he decided to move on and rebounding was not easy but he has been successful thus far.
“After two weeks of contemplating I thank God for giving me the strength to get up and go. He also gave me the inspiration to buy a truck years ago which came in handy to clear away the rubbish and to bring in new materials. I do trucking separately for myself and it is expensive. Eric Richards, the maintenance man also helped me a lot. My boss at the airport also needs to be thanked for supporting me.”
Rebuilding was not without its share of frustrations. The businessman admitted that there were times when he felt hopeless.
“In the beginning how the insurance was talking, I thought I wouldn’t make it. Things were looking black. But through my trucking and I was able to source a lot of material that was no longer in use. People gave me a lot of leftover supplies and it helped me to push forward.”
He said that he remains grateful to the public spirited citizens in the area who came from near and far to help save the building.
“If it wasn’t for the concerned people around the area this whole building would have been gone because the fire department left the fire to get worse before they even attempted to control it. They send a man to look, then they send a truck without water and then they send for another truck and they couldn’t find the man because he was sleeping. They shouldn’t have one person alone in that department that can operate that truck. Everybody on that shift should be trained how to operate that truck. The way how they run around here that morning leaves much to be desired. They couldn’t find water; they should be trained all the time to know where all the hydrants are in an area. All of this is because of lack of training. I guess it may be if they are not getting the right pay so they don’t care or don’t put everything in it.”
On the morning of the fire, Kary’s Guesthouse was occupied by two guests and the owner said he was thankful that no one was injured in the inferno which damaged a portion of an adjacent residential property, as well. The business has been in operation for 29 years with Scot Jr. taking over helm of the business from his father in 2011.
“These businesses are not easy to run and being there for 18 months before the fire, I got a lot of experience, you interact with the good, the bad and the very ugly. But inspite of everything we try to live up to our reputation of being the cleanest Guesthouse; my wife works hard at maintaining this.”
The rebuilding of the facility has brought with it additional rooms and amenities. Of the 10 rooms now available, 9 are equipped with hot and cold water, Cable TV, air-conditioning units, entertainment systems and bigger bathroom sizes. He also plans to have WIFI service installed and a night cafeteria built at the back of the building. Following a soft opening, Scot Jr. says that his business is now up and running and has been able to attract new customers. Those customers also support other businesses in the vicinity.
“For being down for almost a year I must say thank God I am doing pretty well. I have guests from on and off the island and even in this season, the guesthouse is at 80 percent occupancy,” he added.
The guesthouse is still the cheapest around, Scot Jr. assured with rates as low as $35 for two hours to $55 per night.
Guests do have to present valid identification before they can occupy any of the rooms, the hotelier explained. This is just one example, he says, of trying to remain in right standing with the law.
“Last week they (inspectors -red.) came here say they checking for operational licenses and signs and so. I said to myself I hope they are doing the same thing for big businesses on the island. Because I know people paying under the table but this is a reputable family owned business that has been in existence for years and we have nothing to hide. If it wasn’t insured then I don’t know what would have happened. Damages were in excess of $156,000. The total roof was gone, all doors, the ac units, the office, walls, windows, beds, linen everything was gone.”
Scot Jr. explained that after such a harrowing experience he plans to ensure strict adherence to fire safety rules. No smoking signs are on every door and he intends to enforce this. Guests are not allowed to cook in the well-appointed rooms, and 4 fire extinguishers will be installed in common areas.
“You try to give locals the first preference and all they do is mess you up. I have been trying to install extinguishers from a local company for a while now and they still have not been installed. I am now considering taking my business elsewhere,” he noted.
For now the only other immediate need he has is for landline telephones to be reinstalled.
“It’s been three weeks since I went to Tel’Em to get the landline up and running and I can’t get it yet. They said it would take two days and I haven’t heard from them since. But I see the technicians from early in the morning with the vehicles parked up and drinking at bars,” the clearly outspoken man said.
Kary’s Guesthouse is staffed by a team of 4 and is open from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm daily. It can be contacted on email address: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 520-7461 or 523-0574.