BUSINESS CLOSURES MOUNT IN STRUGGLING SAIPAN

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Slowdown in visitor arrivals, world recession among reasons

By Ferdie de la Torre SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, March. 17, 2011) – In the Northern Mariana Islands (NMI), the slowdown in arrivals from the main market of Japan, global financial crisis, a weak Korean won, loss of the garment industry, pullout of Japan Airlines, and many other factors resulted in closures of many businesses, including popular ones, over the past 10 years on Saipan.

In early 2000, Hakubotanm then the second biggest duty free shop on Saipan, shut down its store in Chalan Lau Lau.

Many garment factories began closing operations beginning in 2005 when the World Trade Organization (WTO) lifted trade restrictions. It was in April 2009 when the last of the 34 garment manufacturers standing, finally folded.

The downfall of the garment industry had caused a ripple effect to retail stores, restaurants, and other businesses near the former factories. A check with Saipan Tribune over the weekend at areas where the former factories are located, show empty buildings.

A good example was the closure of a restaurant owned by Bazillai Co. Ltd. in 2006. The restaurant suffered losses after Handsome Garment Factory shut down in mid-2006.

Year 2006 was when many businesses were closed as the economy continued to plummet.

Citing the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.'s increase of electricity rates as among the major factors in 2006, businesswoman Maria Theresa T. Tagorda closed her five businesses on Saipan-Tambayan Restaurant and Lounge, RNT Construction and Contractor, Ma. Teresa T. Tagorda Accounting Services, and Tagorda Entertainment and Promotion Services.

"It's hard to survive. Just take the utilities as an example. It went up dramatically," Tagorda then stated.

Payless Shoes closed its branch in the Garapan area in October 2006, reducing its operations to only one outlet on Saipan.

"With the economic condition that we have right now, why [continue] to open [the Garapan branch]? Payless Shoes Garapan assistant manager Albert Castro then told Saipan Tribune days before the closure.

In 2006, the Garapan outlet of Herman's Modern Bakery and Church's Chicken, and apparel store, Uno Shop, closed down.

The slowdown in tourist arrivals and other factors were cited as the reasons to the closure of Plumeria Resort in Achugao in October 2008. The closure further dragged down the number of rooms available in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

In 2008, Carmen Safeway and Blockbuster, closed reportedly due to fewer customers and increase in utility rates.

Among the popular businesses that also shutdown in the past 10 years were ESCO's Bakehouse in Capital Hill, La Fiesta Mall, Jollibee, Hawaii Bar & Grill, Green Flash Restaurant, Mary's Restaurant, X-Colors, and Island Locator.

Burglars had been victimizing many people, mostly tourists, at beaches at other tourist spots on Saipan, in the past few years.

Lately, burglars were very active at tourist areas, but police were unsuccessful in arresting any of them.

It is the NMI Crime Stoppers Program which has been alerting the public on all these burglary cases.

Last month, a woman parked her car at Last Command Post in Marpi. She later learned that her vehicle was burglarized and a laptop, cell phone, and other items were stolen.

Also last month, three Japanese female tourists were taking pictures at Suicide Cliff in Marpi. When they returned to their pickup truck, they discovered their bags containing money, and other items, missing.

Six other burglary cases happened in February-Ladder Beach, Paupau Beach, Tank Beach, and Forbidden Island. All victims are tourists.

In January, a visiting couple lost money and other items to two burglars at Ladder Beach.

Asked about what the Department of Public Safety (DPS) is doing to curb the crimes at tourist areas, DPS spokesman Tom Blas told Saipan Tribune over the weekend that police officers are now intensifying patrols at places frequented by tourists.

Blas said the Thief Apprehension Select Coalition (TASC) has been reactivated too to arrest these burglars.

The DPS spokesman said Detective Jeffrey Olopai of the Criminal Investigation Bureau is leading the operation. He refused to elaborate so as not to jeopardize ongoing investigations.

Olopai and Sgt. James C. Deleon Guerrero were responsible for recommending the creation in 2002 of TASC, a special group that focused on solving burglary, theft, and robbery cases.

TASC is credited for 107 arrests between July 28 and Dec. 31, 2002. Of those arrests, 104 resulted in convictions.

Another factor that continues scare tourists was that some employees of beach concessionaires are violent persons if not ex-convicts.

Recently, competition for tourist customers at a beach in Garapan led to a beating and shovel attack involving three employees of beach concessionaires. The incident reportedly happened in front of tourists.

The incident prompted Detective Peter A. Aldan to express concern about such criminal behavior.

"This kind of offense and behavior should not be tolerated especially in front of visiting tourists to our island," Aldan said.

For Josie Pineda, operations manager for Extreme Marine, their customers mostly from Japan are coming back to Saipan because their company and staff use family style in treating them.

Pineda pointed to a Japanese male, who was with their staff conversing on a bench near their booth behind Carolinian Utt in Garapan on Tuesday afternoon, as a good example of their regular customers.

"He visits the island thrice a year," Pineda said.

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