Above: the new Bay Street Straw and Craft Market (Photo: CJ)
By Alexander Britell
After Nassau’s historic Bay Street market was destroyed by a fire in Sep. 2001, it was a devastating blow for thousands of Bahamian vendors and their families.
Now, the Bahamas is readying a refurbished market, replete with modern amenities and its own signature legislation.
According to Works Minister Neko Grant, in the years following the fire, the business environment, particularly in the informal sector, saw some deterioration, along with disregard for prevailing policies and some harassment of tourists.
In 2009, the Bahamian government awarded a $12 million contract to Cavalier Construction to build the new market. The new version has accommodations for 500 vendor stalls, 31 specialty stalls and a total of 34,000 square feet. The mezzanine level is enclosed and air-conditioned.
Above: the current temporary market on the port
For the first time ever, vendors will be able to operate credit card processing machines in the stalls.
Construction of the project is on schedule and budget, Grant said.
The challenge for the government he said was to make sure that a less-than-satisfactory “market culture” was not transferred to the new market.
“I’m glad it’s finally done,” said Latoya, a vendor who is working at the temporary market site on the harbour, and who had previously worked at the original market. ”
She said that she and some vendors were concerned about regulations, like a dress code and other measures in the new market.
“Some of the things I don’t think we should have to abide by, because it’s a self-employed place,” she said. “But I’m looking forward to its opening.”
Grant moved a new Straw Market Authority Act into the House of Assembly Monday, legislation aimed at addressing what he called a “majority of the concerns identified by the stakeholders’ group for urgent attention.”
A number of vendors are in agreement with the new policies, however, he said, which look to correct problems like the sale of “knock-off” goods, illegal subleasing of stalls and the operation of multiple stalls by individual vendors.
“Enforcement of these measures by an empowered management entity such as the Market Authority should deter unauthorised persons from operating in the market and also discourage illegal subleasing,” Grant said.
“I am hopeful that these measures should lead to realisation of our vision that, once again, Bay Street Straw and Craft Market will become the signature location for showcasing Bahamian-made crafts and products,” he said.