Ammar’s completes multimillion-dollar renovation across stores

APPAREL and merchandise outfit Ammar’s has completed a series of major renovations across all three stores at a cost of approximately $60 million.

Speaking with the Business Observer, Michael Ammar Jr, owner of the retail chain and popular department stores, said that the completion of the projects coincides well with his initial plan of having the renovations done at a time when the company also celebrates its 60th anniversary.

“We spent about $60 million on the upgrades, with The Village being the majority of it. We actually were able to do this store [Sovereign] on a shoestring budget and come up with the identical layout, having had the experience of working on the other stores previously,” he told the Business

Observer, noting that while the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the process, they were grateful to have completed the much-needed renovations.

The upgrades, which see the stores having extended line selections, new flooring, larger cashing areas and better infrastructural amenities, are such which the proud owner said will help the business to boost its customer service and shopping experience as well as bring the stores up to world-class standards.

“It was a complete redo— we created a swimwear section, a larger lingerie section and a larger ladies’ section, including a jeans shop in the men’s department. We made the store just a lot more user-friendly. With COVID in mind we made the walkways wider and we created a much larger area at the cash counters so that people can line up safely,” he said.

The latest and final phase of the project was completed last month at the Liguanea branch, inside the busy Sovereign Centre. The other locations at Mall and Village plazas in Half-Way-Tree and the King Street branch in downtown Kingston were previously upgraded, with each bearing similar interior enhancements.

Ammar said that despite a severe contraction in sales, which fell drastically at the onset of the pandemic, the plans for renovation were never impeded.

“Apparel retail has been greatly affected worldwide — in Jamaica it was no different. Back in March we were down about 90 per cent on our month-to-month sales but by July we were able to crawl back to about 10 per cent down on sales, which is miraculous. And had it not been for back-to-school being cancelled, we probably would have been back up to par by September,” Ammar added, noting, however, that it has not been an easy task to keep things afloat.

He lauded the efforts of hard-working staff who have laboured to put together numerous strategies including sales, promotions, webinars and features — all aimed at keeping the business buoyant. Despite the slow pace of transactions, Ammar, however, expressed gratitude that his business, unlike many others that have crumbled under the weight of COVID, is still able to carry on its operations and keep a staff complement of some 160 people employed.

While not eyeing any immediate plans for expansion, the owner said that he is now more focused on the completion, launch and roll-out of the company’s long-awaited e-commerce platform that will heighten the customer experience and allow for online purchases. He said that this is expected to be finalised leading up to year end as the company prepares for its Black Friday and Christmas promotions and sales.

“Right now with COVID going on and the uncertainty, the only thing that we’ll be still working on is to complete the final touches at our King Street store, which involves some minor things as the major parts have already been done, so that by the time the Christmas season comes around we’ll be fully ready.

“We are planning massive Black Friday and Christmas promotions. COVID has changed things in that people are not buying the same type of clothing they bought before, but they still need clothes, so we have adjusted to supply the new demands and have changed what we are buying for Christmas,” he said while outlining aspects of the business’ pivoting strategy.

“Because of the effort that we have made both in terms of the renovations and the continuation of our normal business practices, plus the pivot, we have definitely put ourselves ahead of our competition — many of whom have sat down and folded their hands waiting for some miracle to happen. COVID is with us for a while so we have to work with it and make the best out of it,” he added.

As for the 60th anniversary celebrations which have been significantly dampened by the pandemic, Ammar said that he was just happy to still be in business over the many years.

“We’ve come through the turbulent 70s, the chaotic 80s, the horrible 90s and now we’re in 2020. Things were just starting to look up when COVID hit, but we’ve been here for 60 years and hopefully we’ll be here for another 60 years,” he said.

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