The International Bazaar Straw Market: A Bizarre Site of Resilience

The International Bazaar Straw Market: A Bizarre Site of Resilience

You would think that after 14 years since the closure of the International Bazaar, Freeport, the city that was once known as the Magic City would one day be restored back to its magic days. Unfortunately, there may be some bad news for all you Grand Bahamians out there. If you remember, Grand Bahama earned the title of the Magic City because of its booming tourist activity and its biggest and most popular shopping center called the International Bazaar.  Undoubtedly, the Bazaar became an iconic shoppers paradise for many tourists wanting to have a taste of all cultures. The variety of cultures in which the bazaar offered was beyond endless. You could literally take a walk through the African themed shop plaza, or the Indian themed plaza and feel like you were in those countries. On top of the themed shops was an attractive casino known for attracting the best of the best gamblers. This same location that was once filled with nothing but thrilling and diverse moments, is now an abandoned building left with nothing but memories. This location consisted of not only shops and a casino but also, the famous luxurious hotel called the Bahamas Princess Hotel which was renamed the Bahamia Royal Oasis Resort in 2000. The Royal Oasis hotel appealed to many because of its beautiful architectural design  (see fig. 2).Figure 2

Figure 2

             The hotel called the Royal Oasis Hotel provided the fuel needed to supply the core tourism product of the bazaar. The tourism product consisted of luxurious amenities and overnight stay packages that allowed guests to explore the full features of the Bazaar. Once the Bazaar along with the hotel officially become a dead zone after its closure in 2004, the effects began to plague the island. Over 1,500 hundred persons employed at the Bazaar and hotel, became unemployed after a sequential closure of stores. You would think that after the hotel closed the stores would continue to remain open, but unfortunately, they didn’t. Today, the only store section of this official dead zone that has continued to operate, is called the Straw Market. The Straw Market has continued to operate becoming what we consider a historical site of resilience. A historical site or heritage site is an official location where pieces of political, military, cultural, or social history have been preserved due to their cultural heritage value. The International Bazaar Straw Market, while not officially recognized as such, is a historical site because of its preservation of cultural values and practices, and in which local Bahamians exhibit an promote authentic Bahamian straw products. The authentic Bahamians products at the Straw Market (see Fig. 3) (see Fig. 4) range from hand-made weaved hats to purse bags.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Figure 4    Figure 4

         The Straw Market experienced many difficulties including long-term disputes between the Straw Workers Limited and the Bazaar Owners Association, also, they experienced fires, utility service outages, and a very large decline in shoppers. Even with all of these difficulties, the Straw Market continued to survive. How? One may ask. This is mostly because of the dedicated Bahamian Straw vendors who dedicate their lives to selling authentic straw products. How long can one persist to continue selling such products? You may ask. Well, for most of the straw vendors today and in the past, there is a relative generational connection. Most of the straw vendors today would have grown up and participated in their mothers straw shop, which encouraged them to own their own straw shop. In fact, I had the opportunity to interview one of the Straw Vendors who discussed how they grew up participating in their mothers straw shop. The Straw Vendor I interviewed can be seen in the Youtube Video embedded below. With all of that being said, the Straw Market is a Bizarre Site of Resilience because of the straw vendors optimistic spirit about making the Bazaar great again.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOVz-xc_oJk&w=560&h=315]

By Stanton Forbes

Interview by author of Ricardo Dean, Carver and Straw Market Vendor (Nov 2018)