Freeport, Bahamas - When you walk along the narrow corridors of the International Bazaar it seems like its many ghosts have left.
They have been replaced by the sounds of hammers and drills that are putting up new walls, stalls and countertops in stores that have for over six years bore the sign: Closed. There are people walking, shopping, mingling, laughing as they explore that which many deemed impossible and implausible.
The Bazaar has come back to life! Many stores are open and ready for business!
Clothes (for the big girls and the size twos), shoes and jewelry stores, toys, perfumes, bags, photo studios, business centers, food, drink, you name it, it’s there – all in one place for your one-stop shopping pleasure.
With each new day, the bazaar, which was haunted by the island’s failing economy, is being revitalized with the establishment of a new International Bazaar Tenants Association. This group is committed to restoring this once celebrated international tourist shopping mecca to its former glory, and renew its service to the community.
Since it opened in 1967, the International Bazaar grew to be a major tourist shopping area, luring people from all over the world with its inimitable multinational-themed architectural design that made the ten-acre property live up to its name. In 2004, Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne quashed its economic lifeline with the closure of the neighboring Royal Oasis Resort.
Only two words could adequately describe the Bazaar in the aftermath of the storms: Ghost Town. Tenancy reduced from 90 to just over 30 tenants, but in 2010, that number has now swelled to nearly 60 and some believe it’s as a result of the new rental concessions and discounted business license fees by the Grand Bahama Port Authority. Yet others place the blame solely on faith.
New tenants have exercised clever business acumen by opening businesses that will not only assuage the tastes of tourists but primarily gain the allure of local consumers as well. The association also launched an aggressive marketing campaign to attract Grand Bahamians back to what many so fondly remember as a “special place” - for family, for friends, for a really great time.
Included in the slate of events to wind down the year are A Trick & Treat Through the Bazaar on October 30, from 3-8 p.m.; a Treasure Hunt on November 13; a Block Party on November 20th; and Open House and Cocktail Party on December 4.
Vice President of the International Bazaar’s Tenants’Association and co-owner of Le Rendevous Restaurant, Ron Jones, commented that more persons are encouraged to open businesses in the bazaar – filling up every vacancy and doing their part to pump life back into the Grand Bahama economy.
“I think there is a misconception in the community about the International Bazaar. What has happened is that for so many years it has depended on the Royal Oasis to survive and it’s been a tourist destination. There is a straw market here and we have been encouraging the straw vendors to come out and open their stores and that will bring tourists here,” he said.
“We don’t want tourists to come here and discover that there are only a few straw market stalls open. That defeats the whole purpose. So it is important that they come out, it will take a while before they make a profit for their efforts but if you’re not open, no-one will ever come. If you’re open, there’s reason to come.”
Anitha Cooper, Marketing Executive and owner of Bahamian Illustrated said the Bazaar is being restored to a place that is most inviting.
“When you get off from work, come on down. We have so much to offer; a variety of shopping, dining and entertainment options.” Chairman, RuthAnn Newton-Lightbourne, owner of 1-9-6, said that the main purpose of the association is to bring about the unification of all the businesses under one common goal.
“It’s all about bringing back the Bazaar as a total entity and not each store trying to advertise by themselves, which allows us to lower the advertising expenses as a group, instead of individual businesses.”
Other members of the Association’s board are: June Henderson (Le Rendevous), Secretary; Randall Cooper, ( Kids World) Treasurer; Anthony Gee (Goldilocks Jewelry Store, Assistant Treasurer; Nikki Cooper, Assistant Marketing Executive (The Pretzel House and Clippendales) and Letishea Cooper, (Bahamian Illustrated) Assistant Secretary.
While tenants bask in the new found air of potential that has been birthed from their sacrifices, there are those among them that cling to the belief that God’s hands have brought the Midas touch to the International Bazaar.
“It’s a miracle,” exclaimed Sophia Rolle, owner of Jubulee Bath and Body, who has been operating her business there for the past eight years.
“I remember the Seven Days of Washing last year and when people came here to pray and they prayed for seven days – walking around the bazaar at six o’clock in the morning, just praying for this bazaar to turn around. That was it! A year ago, nothing was happening but one year after prayer and seeking God’s face – in fact, within nine months - we saw a total transformation. This is just the beginning, but you ain’t seen nothing yet!”