By Muriithi John
There is a common and hopeful phrase that many uses ‘When one door closes, another one opens. The reality of this has been witnessed with the coming of COVID-19 in the country which forced many businesses to close and
rendered many jobless. The unexpected pandemic forced many to be innovative not only to remain relevant in the market but also be in a position to put food on the table. Among the businesses that came up during the COVID-19 time is the business hub in Down Town, Nanyuki town. Surprising to many, this is not just about entertainment, beer, and meat- there are a total of nine businesses within this compound. All these have come up as different people look for survival means. Were it not for the creation of a good environment for business to thrive by the County Government of Laikipia, these enterprises would have been taken to other counties.
Sir Jay Suits, a business that majored in designing official suits and those for weddings, was hard-hit by the pandemic as people started working from home and social gatherings like weddings were banned. The business had
to be innovative for sustenance despite the setbacks. “We were forced to diversify our fashion designs and increased our products from only official wear to fast-consumer wear as many of our customers were not wearing official outfits as they were working from home,” said James Maina, the Sir Jay Suits. This enterprise now has a range of products like body fragrances, sunglasses, earrings, bomber jackets, lipsticks, throw blankets, customized masks, African print fashions among many others. It has employed two people and also offers attachment opportunities.
McBull Art, also found within the Down Town compound was founded on November 26 after the owner, Kelvin Ndegwa lost his job as an Administrator in Hampton School due to the pandemic. He is now a renowned person who does quality customized furniture and metal sculptures. He also does the construction of structures and interior decorations, fine arts, modifying electric mobility. Ndegwa does not regret starting the new venture despite the challenges he encountered before standing on his feet. “I cannot go back t my former job even if I am offered triple the amount I used to get as now I’m flexible and have time to explore into art,” he said, adding that so far, he has offered employment to two people after a successful three-moth attachment, one being a student from Nanyuki VTC. Muthoni Kirauko whose business, Muthonily Design works closely with that of McBull Art says that COVID-19 has taught her that nothing is permanent and that we should strive to tap into our abilities. “I was working at Panari Hotel as a banqueting coordinator when the pandemic was announced and I was one of the people to be laid down as many eateries closed down. Then I found McBull online and we have been working closely since then,” she said. She says she has received great support especially from women for venturing into wood and metalwork that has been male-dominated.
Also in the same hub is Bon Oqqo Studio which was started by Jeff Waweru in a bid to move from outdoor shooting to indoors and offering unique selling points for photography. It aims at transforming Bonoko (fake) photography to high-end at affordable rates to accommodate all types of clients.
A tattoo center also exists within the same locality called Silent Saint Arts. According to the sole proprietor Denis Gakuru were it not for COVID-19, he would never have thought of coming back to Nanyuki for business. The hub has provided him with an avenue to interact with other like-minded people to give back to society. Starting around June 2021, the business is growing and is expected to stabilize soon and offer employment to the locals.
Chill n’ Grill offers some spice to the business environment with a variety of food. The business gets the vegetables and meat from the local farmers as a way of upgrading them economically. Something that started just like a walk-in has now expanded to employ ten people who work in shifts. “I first in Down Town as a customer and I heard many people asking for a food which was not available at that time. Being a chef having specialized in pastry and desserts, I gladly took advantage of that and came up with this business,” said John Tumuti, the owner, adding that another reason for starting the Grill was to bring together people in the hospitality department that was negatively affecting when eateries were closed as the government tried to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Barburrito is yet another business in the hospitality category that has brought a new variety of food to the area. This is a Mexican dish that caters even to vegetarians. The Down Town side of the beverages also came to be as a result of COVID-19. It came into existence last year when campuses closed down and forced Vincent Otieno the coowner to be stuck at home with nothing to do. The idea was initiated to develop a creative hub where people will have an open space for networking, interaction and generally keeping themselves busy. Soon people started asking for beverages and the idea of Down Town was created and has since created employment for 15 people. These businesses will be celebrating one year anniversary between December 17 to 19 2021 as they celebrate the teamwork that has seen them grow together. Every business will be showcasing its unique products for all. “We are calling it Down Town and Friends Festival to celebrate our progress as were it not for friends and other customers we would not have managed to reach this point,” commented Otieno. The coming together of young people to help each other improve their lives shows what real friends are for and is something to be emulated.
The County Government of Laikipia has also set aside Ksh. 3.3 billion Economic Stimulus in partnership with local financiers to help such organizations acquire loans at a reduced interest rate of 7.5 percent after catering for the 5 percent. This is meant to cushion the MSEs from the harsh conditions of COVID-19. New institutions have also opened up in Nnanyuki like Solution Sacco, New Forties, Toyota Kenya, Quick Mart Supermarket, among others.