The International Bazaar and The Port Lucaya Marketplace were both once recognized as the jewel of Grand Bahama Island. These popular destinations were a socializing center for all ages including the young and the old and above all, amazing and entertaining tourist attractions and shopping areas for foreigners who visit our island. These grand tourist attractions not only brought in a lot of revenue for the Bahamian government, but it also brought in a lot of tourists who in turn encouraged their family and friends to come and enjoy our island. After the signing of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, ( Barrett 1972) The International Bazaar and The Port Lucaya Marketplace as well as other tourist destinations were all built around the same time frame in order to attract more tourists to our beautiful island of Grand Bahama. However, after the destruction that the major hurricanes of 2004, Francis and Jane brought to our island, many of these attractions including The International Bazaar were utterly destroyed or severely damaged. To this day, Port Lucaya Marketplace is one of the only tourist destinations built at that time that is still standing.
The International Bazaar was opened in the year 1967 and featured ninety shops, thirteen different restaurants, and six ice cream or snack stores. The International Bazaar got its name because when it first opened it was a multinational-themed shopping center, divided into many different sections, including African, Indian, Oriental, French, and South American sections. These different sections that the Bazaar was composed of all sold things –for example, watches, perfume, coffee, food items and other things along that nature- that were found in their motherland. Another example would be that the Chinese section of the Bazaar sold Chinese food that was prepared by persons of Chinese ancestry they would even go as far as writing down your order in mandarin and speaking to the cook in Mandarin as well. Combined with these different multinational- themed shops The International Bazaar also had a featured Straw Market which had local Bahamian vendors selling their works of art created by straw and other little knick-knack items.
The International Bazaar not only housed these many different varieties of shopping places, but it also helped to boost the economy of The Bahamas. The International Bazaar helped to bring in lots of tourist from all around the world. The Bahamas main revenue is the Tourism Industry which comprises 60% of the Gross Domestic Product so because The Bazaar was such a success in bringing in the tourist the economy also benefited from it. Not only did the economy benefit from the success of the Bazaar the Bahamian people also benefited as well. The Bazaar –back in its prime- created thousands of jobs for not only Bahamians ,but also people who immigrated to The Bahamas for a better chance at life which opened doors and gave them opportunity for them to make money, have a stable income, provide for their families, give their children a better chance at a proper education as well as provide a roof over their families heads.
However, the International Bazaar is not only a site of memory it is also a site of mourning as well. Up until the year of 2004, the International Bazaar was a great tourist attraction. People flew in from all around to visit this great tourist attraction; however, in the year of 2004, The Bahamas had two back to back devastating Hurricanes. Hurricane Jeanne and Frances destroyed everything in their paths and caused the Bahamian government, many different insurance companies as well as anyone who owned a business, property, plot of land or even a car millions of dollars in repairs for damages. Among those many destroyed buildings, the Royal Princess Hotel and Casino was one of them. Because of the damages caused to the Hotel, The International Bazaar also suffered a loss.
Alongside the physical damages to the Bazaar, there were also economic damages. Many shops closed down and after the hurricanes, only three stores remained open these stores included the Chinese restaurant, Fragrance of The Bahamas –which sold perfume- and a small toy store. Because of the closing down of the hotel and in turn the decreased amount of visitation, the Bazaar received many Bahamians –more than three quarters that were employed at The Bazaar- lost their jobs and in turn their only source of income. After the 2004 hurricanes the government of the Bahamas had decided to not put in money to help repair our fallen tourist attraction –seeing that it was a public attraction and not owned by a private corporation- and in turn this has started to worry not only the citizens of Grand Bahama ,but it has also prompted tourist who visits The Bahamas for the International Bazaar to call it “scary” or a “ghost town”.
Since the back to back hurricanes in 2004 many other hurricanes have since hit The Bahamas and in turn The International Bazaar which caused a further dilapidation to happen to the Bazaar along with fires in the star market which also took away from the vendors livelihood and still the government has not decided to restore to what it once was. The International Bazaar was broadcasted all around the world –in pamphlets, books such as Bahamas Vacation Guide, magazines and travel websites such as TripAdvisor and easyvoyage- as a place that you needed to visit in Grand Bahama; it was once filled with livelihood, tourists and many different shops and straw vendors; however, in a mere short span of four years the International Bazaar was reduced to nothing and the government continues to do nothing to fix this once treasured attraction, and is becoming a greater cause for concern for everyone who inhabits this island. The International Bazaar is mourned by many Grand Bahamians and they do so in manner such as visiting the site periodically, writing an article to the Tribune complaining about the lack of interests that both the government, and The Port Authority shows in rebuilding this attraction, and taking to FaceBook to post flashback pictures and creating FaceBook groups to talk about the days before when the Bazaar was still intact.
Over the years, the number of tourists visiting Grand Bahama has rapidly decreased with Port Lucaya receiving the minimum of those foreigners who do visit. On top of that, not all of the tourists have to visit the straw market. Due to these circumstances, the straw vendors are finding it extremely difficult to cope with this huge change. Althea Knowles( personal communication, 21st October, 2018) is a straw vendor who specializes in ceramic souvenirs. During the interview that was conducted she mentioned how the times have changed severely from when she first began her occupation as a straw vendor in March 1969. She stated how the flow of tourists who swept the halls of the Port Lucaya Straw Market is very limited now compared to the years before hurricanes Francis and Jane shook Grand Bahama. The amount of tourists that are seen in Port Lucaya has decreased rapidly. It was also mentioned that if a ship was scheduled to visit the island, approximately three-quarters of those tourists would come to Port Lucaya either for entertainment, various tours and most of all to shop. However, now hardly a quarter of tourists visit Port Lucaya Markeplace and it is difficult for the straw vendors, including herself to make their income. According to the Ministry of Tourism, the amount of tourists visiting Grand Bahama on Cruise ships from 2005 to the present, has decreased from 10,400 ( 90%) tourists to 6,968 (33%) tourists in a short 16 months to 5,505(21%) tourists in another 4 years and now, currently out of that 21%, only a half of those tourists which is 2,753 in total visit Port Lucaya and most of them do not shop in the straw market. After listening to Miss Althea Knowles and calculating the amount in the drop of visitors, I was utterly shocked to see how much the economy of Grand Bahama had truly fallen. As an island with tourism as its main industry, witnessing how the straw vendors of Grand Bahama are now suffering to make an income truly pained me. They are going out on a daily basis with the hope that today will be better than the last, which is something that most individuals, including myself would find it difficult to do.
Not only has the number of tourists visiting Port Lucaya Marketplace drastically decreased, but the economic value has also declined greatly compared to the years before the hurricanes occurred. My mother, Patrice Johnson, (personal communication, 22nd October, 2018) explained how the economical value of the straw market has changed numerically from 2005 to the present. She stated to me that the amount of money that was made in a single day in the past could range from $500.00 to $1500.00, compared to now where she is struggling to make a minimum of $500 in a week. It was then asked for her to estimate the total amount of money that she would make in one working week including Saturday compared from 2005 to the present. After it was estimated, it was found that the amounts for 2005 were $1500+$800+$750+$300+$600+$400 to give a total of $4,500.00 in a single working week. Compared to back then, the total earnings for a working week this year including Saturday were found to be $100+$50+$45+$40+$165 for a total of $400.00 in one working week. The percentage drop was then calculated by subtracting 4,500.00 from 400.00 which left the amount of 4,100.00 and then dividing this amount from 4,500.00 and multiplying it by 100 which gave an overall percentage drop of 91%. Based on the information given, it is not difficult to see that this is an extremely high rate of percentage drop. With an economic decline immense as this one, we can understand how the straw vendors of The Port Lucaya Marketplace feel because the total number of tourists coming to the island of Grand Bahama has decreased significantly, and then the tourists that do visit, not much visit the Port Lucaya area. This not only makes it difficult to get income, but it also causes the vendors to be irritable.