Young father loses construction job, opens roadside stall



Last weekend salesman Donnell Burris (right) presented customer Adrian Adams with a watermelon that he bought at his new vegetable and vegetable stand in Mason Hall. – Photo by David Reid


Donnell Burris, 31, of Mason Hall had to adjust after being hard financially affected by the Covid19 pandemic.

Like many Tobagonians, Burris has lost his job in the private sector since the virus hit TT in March 2020.

The father of two boys – five years and four months old – lives in an apartment.

However, his early morning job as an inspector at the Tobago House of Assembly cannot fully meet his financial obligations, which include his monthly rent.

Burris said he had worked in the construction industry as a carpenter for the past five years to supplement his income.

But with the construction industry temporarily closing in May during the state of emergency and the sector slowing after it resumed in July, Burris said jobs were hard to come by.

As a normally independent person, Burris said he needed to find another source of income.

“I’m not a person who likes to be dependent on family, so at this point I had to find a legal way to make an extra dollar,” said Burris.

“The clothing store was my first consideration, but my mother, Patricia Burris, told me people don’t go out that much, so we decided that a grocery and vegetable store was the better option.”

Donnell Burris, owner of the Northside Fruits & Vegetable Outlet in Mason Hall, was unwrapping bananas for sale at his booth last week. – Photo by David Reid

Burris said his headache started when he started looking for a location to start his business.

“Some of the places I checked had run into family problems and others had rents too high for me.”

Burris said after a week of searching, he found a place on Northside Road, Mason Hall, where he could reach an amicable settlement with the property owner.

Burris said business was slow some days but generally very good.

“Villagers who support me and a lot of people who drive by in cars stop and buy.”

A proud Burris said he received many compliments for opening the store as a young person, as well as for the convenient location.

In addition to provisions, fruit and vegetables, Burris also sells basic necessities such as masks and water. He also wants to sell other items such as bread and phone cards by the end of September.

However, Burris said one of the challenges he faces is sourcing supplies locally.

“Although I am interested in helping local farmers, the goods I get in Tobago cannot feed my sales.”

Burris said he travels to Trinidad every fortnight to get extra supplies, which sometimes results in spoiled goods on his hands.

“I don’t have personal transportation and the boat is half full, so sometimes I have to spend an extra day in Trinidad because there is no boat card or hold to transport my goods.”

Burris said these challenges put additional financial strain on his small business as he has to hire someone to manage his branch when he goes to Trinidad.

Still, Burris is pleased with his progress and intends to place his roots in Mason Hall.

“I will not be leaving Mason Hall, my support people and I intend to help with small village activities when the time is right.”

He encouraged others to be creative even during these difficult times.

“If I can do it, others can do the same thing, it’s just persistence and belief in what you can do.”

He believes his booth will be a great success.

“Yuh could come over and see me in my jacket and tie,” he joked.


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