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The transformation of Gasparillo

gasparilloIf you have not visited Gasparillo in the past five years, you may not recognise it now.

The place has been transformed.

The traffic-choked Norman Junction, infamous for its rush-hour gridlock, is still a problem. The homeless man sitting on the steps of the abandoned movie theatre is still there.

But almost all the nondescript buildings that were signs of decay have been replaced by new steel and concrete structures.

Many of these buildings are now occupied by entrepreneurs trying to earn a living in small businesses, from food to fashion.

Now, almost all the buildings between Norman Junction and the Bonne Aventure Main Road, known as the Harmony Hall Stretch, are occupied by businesses.

Most of the business are thriving, sales boosted by the increasing number of people living in and around Gasparillo.

Those new customers are coming from recently built Housing Development Corporation residential blocks, and from private home owners who have built in outlying areas.

There is also good money to be made from the hundreds of staff and contract workers who exit the east gate of Petrotrin’s refinery compound, a route that leads directly to the main street in Gasparillo.

The area now has the new prestigious symbol of “town” status – a KFC outlet.

Last year, Mario’s and Burger King opened branches and there are plans for a mall, owned by, believe or not, a man who sells chickens for a living in Gasparillo.

Not far away from the poultry man is a market vendor who worked for decades to earn the money to begin constructing a million-dollar building behind her ochro stall.

Norman Junction was named after Noor Norman who lived at what is now a blue shop on the corner. His daughter Moreen Norman said the place was named after him because during the 1950s his shop, now named the “One Stop Shop”, was the only place that sold dry goods and alcohol in the area.

Norman died on September 30, 1979.

The residents of Gasparillo have embraced the rapid development even though some miss the smell of burning sugar cane that was once a part of the area. And business owners say the town’s development was beneficial to their businesses.

Joyce Debiram has been a market vendor all her life. For 43 years, she lived and worked in and around Gasparillo.

Two years ago, she began putting up a large concrete structure near Norman Junction.

The building is incomplete and Debiram has not yet decided how it will be used.

She said she was pleased that Gasparillo was developing.

“It is helpful for the community. Everybody is happy about it.”

Her neighbour, Gilbert Rooplal is known to many. His son Wesley Rooplal, known as “Bobo”, has made the term “Suspex” synonymous with customised vehicles. Four of Rooplal’s children are involved in the family-owned businesses.

Rooplal began his garage called Rooplal and Sons with no formal education but knowledge of welding.

The garage has been in existence for 42 years in the same location. Rooplal said the two lots of land where his home and business are located rented for $20 per year for many years. It was only recently that he purchased the land at just over $100,000. The family also owns an auto parts shop.

Today the value of the property is more than $7 million.

Christopher Tang owns the only steam laundry in the area. The business and his home are located in one of the few of the town’s original buildings.

Tang’s business was passed on to him by his father John Tang who came from China. Tang inherited the business when his father passed away in 1988. Even though business has been booming in the area, Tang’s is not.

He said, “For this business, things have been pretty slow. The business died down a lot. I will not be staying in this business for much longer. I most likely will be going into food full time but the place needs to be renovated first.”

On weekends, Tang sells barbeque outside his laundry.

Poultry dealer Nazir Khan said in the past ten years, Gasparillo has blossomed.

Khan who has been selling mainly chickens for the past ten years is in the process of building the town’s first mall.

Work began two years ago.

He said spaces will be available for rent.

Khan also said the price of land in Gasparillo’s main areas were now between $200 and $400 per square feet.

The owner of one of the buildings that has space available for rent at Norman Junction said the cheapest section will be rented for $5,000.

Next to the abandoned cinema is a supermarket famous for its ownership by people of Chinese ethnicity.

The grocery store is owned by the Siu family and has been operating for more than 40 years.

One of the family members said they did not mind additional competition from smaller shops and other supermarkets because “competition was good for development”.

He said over the years sales increased.

But the main problem for the rapidly growing town is the horrendous traffic.

Tang said there were no places to build a parking lot in the main shopping area.

Councillor for Gasparillo, Feeraz Ali said Member of Parliament for Tabaquite Surujrattan Rambachan was working with the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure to solve the traffic problem.

Ali agreed that traffic was the main issue in the area.

There is the possibility of a bridge being built across the Guaracacra River so that motorists could have easy access to the Solomon Hochoy Highway from the nearby Reform Village, he said.

That bridge may very well complete the transformation of Gasparillo.

Trinidad Express

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