Straw Vendors Arrest Not The Problem

Sunday 03rd, October 2010 / 12:11 Published by

The arrest of nine Bahamian straw vendors in New York City on charges of trafficking in counterfeit goods is not a problem for the Bahamas. It is, however, a symptom of much larger problems.

And building a new $10 million straw market will probably not solve those problems.

First off, why do we call them “Bahamian straw vendors”.  Little of what they sell is actually made of straw and almost none of it is Bahamian-made. Many of the vendors aren’t even Bahamian.

A 2007 Nassau Institute survey of 42 Straw Market stalls found that 52 per cent of stalls surveyed sold no straw products, with only 13 per cent of products sold being Bahamian-made and only 19 per cent made of straw.

Further, the survey suggested that less than 5 per cent of the Bay Street straw market vendors were of Bahamian birth.

So, maybe it’s time to lose the “Bahamian straw vendors” reference and call them what they are… small independent retailers.

Public opinion on the arrest has been all over the map, with many conflicting opinions.  Most people condemn the vendor’s actions but some have almost attempted to justify their actions, claiming they were “forced” into their illegal activities by economics.

Telator Strachan, president of the Straw Vendors Association defended the vendors, saying, “The vendors try to make an honest living with those bags. They bought them and were prepared to pay duty on the items.”

There is no doubt that the vendors knew what they were doing was wrong.  Everyone else did.

In December, 2006, customs, immigration and police officers confiscated thousands of fake designer handbags, watches, clothes and other counterfeit items in a raid at an East St. South warehouse.

More than 5,000 Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton and Chanel handbags were among the plethora of false designer labels that were seized.

The alleged owner of the operation, 31-year-old Shan Ma, a Chinese national with residency status, claimed that he did not know the difference between counterfeit and real goods. Yeah, right!

Michael Moxey, from the Counterfeit Crime Division at the Royal Bahamas Police Force, said the public needs to realize that buying counterfeit items is a crime and offenders could be fined up to $100,000 or sentenced to five years in prison.

“Use this as an example to know that the laws do exist and they will be enforced,” he warned back then.

Obviously, sympathetic politicians made some phone calls and there has been little police action since, despite numerous expressions of concern by U.S. offcials.

This was a problem that had been in the making for a long time.

Back in 2005, the vendors wholeheardtedly rejected a plan by Trade and Industry Minister Leslie Miller to ensure that at least 50 percent of the items sold at the new downtown straw market are authentically Bahamian.

They indicated that even traditional straw works are being replaced by imported straw work, which is cheaper and of a higher quality.

They also complained that native crafts are much more expensive and have a limited selection.

Vendors, Ann Bailey and Mary Simmons, also lamented that authentic Bahamian items are too expensive.

Anita Francis, a veteran straw vendor said that she had no choice but to sell imported items to remain competitive and to feed her family.

“I am a mother and I sit down to my stall day after day without making a dollar. But when they started selling the [counterfeit] Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Prada bags and I bought a few of them, then I started making money. The bags are now hot sellers, it’s what the tourists want, so we have to supply them,” she said.

In 2007, outraged by persistant sales of knock-off items, Nassau Tourism and Development Board Chairman Charles Klonaris said the Straw market had become nothing more than a flea market and was a liability to The Bahamas’ tourism industry.

He said the straw market slowly began going down hill when straw vendors opted to sell counterfeit products over authentic Bahamian straw and craftwork.

“For many years, the straw market has been an important anchor for Bay Street, but it’s been living on an image from the past where [vendors] were very creative in terms of [their] straw work and other local products they would create,” Mr. Klonaris told the Bahama Journal.

He said the market today resembles a flea market, where vendors are selling T-shirts, baseball caps, and knock-off designer handbags.

“We, the Nassau Tourism and Development Board, feel that the straw vendors for the good of the nation should recreate themselves and be more creative with more local arts and craft and straw work,” Mr. Klonaris said at the time.

Around the same time, Rick Lowe, from the Nassau Institute said the selling of counterfeit branded goods, such as luxury jewellery, perfumes and watches, Gucci and Fendi bags, and designer brands such as Nike, Adidas and Hilfiger, could land the Bahamas in trouble with US copyright and intellectual property watchdogs such as the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) the umbrella group for US trademark industries.

He said the Straw Market sales could again attract the unwanted attention of the US. He noted that the protection of intellectual property rights was a big component of any trade agreements – World Trade Organisation (WTO) membership and the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union (EU) – that The Bahamas was faced with negotiating.

“There are treaties where we’ve signed all sorts of things.” Mr Lowe said. “It can’t be in the country’s best interests to be flaunting the fact that you can buy these knock-offs here.”

In October 2008 the US Embassy even sponsored a workshop to help the Bahamas develop strategies to combat piracy of intellectual property in the Bahamas.

“The transit of counterfeit drugs, car and airplane parts through the Bahamas coupled with the lack of enforcement of copyright laws is a major concern and officials said the workshop is critical in raising awareness about the country’s piracy problem,” The Tribune reported on October 8, 2008.

And then there was the obvious warning at the beginning of this year when Americans let it be known that they were not satisfied that Bahamians were doing their best to get piracy under control.

The US Trade Representative’s office wrote in its report on the matter:

“However, enforcement is lax and anecdotal evidence suggests that the police are complicit in the buying and selling of pirated movies, songs and fabricated high-end purses to residents and tourists.”

Although there was no supporting evidence to implicate the police, it was obvious that the Americans had had enough.

So, the ladies in New York City knew they were breaking the law and took a chance that they would not get caught.

After the arrest of the vendors, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Brent Symonette warned vendors, “As a result of these charges, I highly recommend that Bahamians be guided accordingly.”

Although sound advice, it was not received warmly by the PLP, or the vendors, who think that government should find some way for them to continue their illicit trade. To do otherwise, according to some, would mean financial collapse for them and the country.

Some vendors have gone so far as to delude themselves into thinking that their entire business model must be based on the sale of couterfeit goods.

Shop owner Lerond Colebrook recently told the Tribune newspaper: “If you take away the bags, you take away the food out of our mouth, or our customs officers, and for the tourists who come here excitedly for the bags.”

Vendor Phillipa Nixon said: “We went to selling knock off bags because we had to go with the flow with what was selling at the time, because straw products weren’t and still aren’t marketable.”

“Tourists were asking us about the knock off bags… This is what we live off of right now.”

“Why can’t we sell what is valuable to make money?”, she asked.

Wood carver James Rolle said, “If I was a vendor, as far as I’m concerned, once the government get the duty I could sell them anyway. You can’t tell me they’re illegal once you collect the duty.

“You go to the US to buy these fake items. Once you bring them to the Bahamas and pay government duty, they aren’t illegal any more.”

He’s dead wrong, of course. The bags are illegal all the way down the distribution pipeline, right down to the woman who buys it and carries it on her shoulder.

Just last week, Adrian Gibson, in a column in the Tribune, said the Straw Market has become a ghastly, national blemish.

“Nassau’s flea market–I mean straw market–has become a ghastly, national blemish that has irrefutably become a liability to our country’s tourism industry.”

Gibson points out that our declining tourist numbers indicate that the Bahamas’ tourism product is mediocre and significantly falling behind. He says the internationally promoted straw/flea market is also weakening our tourism product, as it has become nothing more than, “a filthy, condemned structure where illegal aliens profit and counterfeit merchandise is sold unabatedly.

“The present straw market is a major blot on downtown Bay Street that has, itself, become a loathsome and grimy monstrosity.

“In glory days, the straw market used to be a major tourist attraction. Today, it is nothing but a grubby, dusty zone where tourists are constantly harassed by overly aggressive vendors… where rats, roaches and other rodents are permanent residents. Frankly, it no longer reflects Bahamian culture.”

The old straw market, before the fire, was already in decline.  In its “glory days”, it was an actual straw market, with straw vendors.  It had charm, history and culture.  It was “world famous” in that it was must-see for visitors to the country.

Will a new $10 million market change all that?  It may be more difficult than one thinks to straighten the market out, as there are other problems with the whole straw market concept.

Despite its scathing report on the Straw Market, the Nassau Institute still said that the Government should not mandate what the straw vendors sold, as requiring them to sell only Bahamian-made products would put 90 per cent of them out of business.

That is true. And therein lies the bigger problem.

If vendors can’t sell counterfeit merchandise – their best selling, highest profit items – how will they make a living, even in a new $10 million building?

If the intention is to build a new market, populated by the same vendors, then there needs to be changes made to ensure that those vendors do not feel a need to resort to criminal activities to make an “honest living”.

What we have now is poor marketing and the lack of good old fashion business sense.

One of the biggest problems the straw vendors face, whether they operate from a tent or a fancy new building, is that most of them sell the same merchandise.

Dozens of stalls, all selling the same merchandise.  It’s a matter of marketing.  Not only are they not selling Bahamian-made items, they are all selling the same foreign-made trinkets and trash.

BAIC is churning out Bahamian crafts workers.  But only a few of the individuals make items that could compete on a global scale. Most of them produce items of mediocre quality, showing little creativity.  A walk around the booths of a BAIC trade show will reveal that many of the artisans are offering almost identical items, much of which is overpriced. The quality simply does not match the price. Value is missing and good business planning, hard work and innovation are all in short supply.

That’s a recipe for business falure.

Not that Bahamians can not make high quality goods.  There are are several Bahamian individuals and companies currently producing high-quality items.  But well-made or hand-made items are expensive and the market for such goods is smaller and already quite saturated.

The companies currently competing in that market may not appreciate increased competition.

Can the existing market really accommodate the addition of dozens of little “shops”, all selling high-quality Bahamian-made crafts, opening up smack dab in the center of town? What would that do to existing Bay Steet merchants, many of whom sell merchandise that competes for the very same tourist dollars.

Okay, so forget high-quality crafts that compete with the merchandise offered by existing Bay Street mercahants. We will simply fill the market – again – with dozens of trinket and trash merchants who all sell the same things?  But since they can’t sell counterfeit merchandise, how will they stay in business?  By selling cheap Chinese-made souveniers?

If you have taken the time to read this far, we’d really appreciate your comments on the matter.  Use the form below.


63 Comments on “Straw Vendors Arrest Not The Problem

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  • when will Bahamians get it??
    everywhere i hear pray to god pray this pray that and no one follows gods rules anyway.. contradictions are a part of the bahamian way of thinking ill do something bad and pray about it before and after. the worse thing was to have such close ties with the US. What you failing to see is they cant even govern their own country cos thats where the fake goods were anyway. The Bahamians with their poor education because the government offer great schools anywhere in the bahamas need to make a living somehow.. who the heck wants straw place mats on their table anyway, they are not fashionable or trendsetters come on wakey wakey. everywhere in the world there are fake goods and people buy them because they want to look nice and cannot afford the real thing why shouldnt the bahamians sell them too, they dont need to go and buy in the US there are plenty of companies that can send them direct to the bahamas on the internet. With the huge influx of Chinese people that will arrive in the bahamas very shortly, watch how many fake goods come onto the streets and just not in nassau the chinese and they lack of copyrights make them able to make their wares legally and they will smuggle them in whereever they want and pay off customs or whoever else they need to, you ever heard of the chinese mafia? makes the Bahamian badboys look like pussycats. Its not just the Bahamas that have corruption its everywhere and The Bahamas supposed to be independant not being governed by the US and its policies now its always kissing its backside and now its also going to have to accommodate the chinese who will push the bahamians out of all jobs and trades just watch it happen they are like a virus spreading throughout the Caribbean, breeding like rats and you letting these people in, people who kill their children because they are the wrong sex, eat anything thats alive. I have even seen fried starfish on the streets in china what kind of people do that and now you just opened the doors and let them right into your culture without a second thought cos they flash the cash in the right areas. There is no way to control the influx of cheap goods, you havent been able to control the influx of drugs what makes you think you can control a few cheap handbags and if there was a way guess what tourists will go to other places where you can purchase fake goods and spend their $$$ there supply and demand. I say good for these women to take the risk ok they got caught but that is the risk they took and it is no different to any other illegal activity you do it and pay the price if you get caught. Having travelled all around the world and lived in many countries including the Bahamas fake goods are everywhere vendors walking up and down beaches all over the world selling fake bags,dvds why shouldnt the bahamians do it too.. they need to eat and feed their families and i dont think the Bahamas should be pushed about by other governments that are not aware of the hardships some locals endure, has anyone seen over the hill in a while it makes bay street look positively dreamy. The straw market is no different to any other market it needs to sell goods that make the vendors money, local produce can be sold in other locations but the tourists go to the market to get what they are looking for and that is no straw place mats and bags that i would not be seen dead wearing, it dont matter what it used to be that was back in the day when Nassau was a safe beautiful haven, lets face it its not that place no more with its high crime rate, killings muggings.The amount of foreigners that get ripped off coming in to do business is what needs to be addressed is that legal that the lawyers get away with charging people and not just foreigners and then dont do any work. Foreign investment means money and jobs for the Bahamians even if you dont like it in order for the country to expand it needs the support of foreign investment which dont always have to come with the price and sellout that has just happened with the chinese. I know plenty of millionaire investors that want to come and invest into the Bahamas open up businesses and employ locals but all the stupid government redtape stops them at the door.. this money means a better bahamas for bahamians you just dont see it that way you think foreigners coming in means they are taking over and all it is is jealousy, jealousy that you cannot buy the beachfront land, jealousy that you cannot build the resorts because you dont have the money to do it, and so the only way how you know to act is to try and stop foreigners doing it because the attitude in the Bahamas is well if i cant do it then ill stop everyone else doing it but in the end you cut off your own noses to spite yourselves.. how do you think these rich white foreigners get money you think its because of the colour of the skin thats just stupid talk, its because they are educated, look for opportunities, place themselves into good careers, network, open businesses that sell products that people want. These poor women who got arrested should not be condemed for trying to survive the only way they know how and to sell products that people actually want, more fools sitting there for hours plaiting some placemat they can only sell for a few dollars even if they can find some stupid tourist to buy it. You need to all get with the program and get more advanced into how the world is outside the bubble of the bahamas. educate yourselves and then come back and open your businesses up do what the foreigners can do and you will end up richer people and yes im white and yes i love the bahamian people black white purple with blue spots its all the same to me if you beautiful inside that shines through to the outside. be beautiful people and tourists will flock to your shores

    • Wifey211:

      Well spoken and with truth. I myself was born in the Bahamas, and don’t get me wrong I love my country, but left as a young woman at the age of 20 with my 17 month year old son. I believe today if I had remain in the Bahamas I would of been dead.

      As far as Bahamians welcoming change you can forget it, even speaking with the few Bahamians here in the US they are so negitive and down grading, so I then remain to myself.

      I don’t know what it will take for Bahamians to come out of their negitive shell. And as you mentioned them using the name of God,I believe it’s used out of context, for God is love and He’s not degrading.

      I am not a white Bahamian, but a Bahamian of mix race, and I believe strongly who you become in life is comes from the inviroment that you come from.

      No country or nation can survive if there is no room for growth, and in the Bahamas it is not what you know it is who you know.

      The world is changing before the Bahamian eyes and they just do not get it, God has given a beautiful place for the Bahamians to reside in and their mentality is destroying the beauty of this land.

  • Hi,
    I think we are not helping the situation that we have landed ourselves in.

    Yes the vendors have made mistakes and are paying the price, but we all have to answer for the fact that we have contributed to the negative cultural state of the Straw Market.

    The big problem is that we have lost our national pride and refuse to support all-Bahamian products and merchandise.

    I believe if we really want to improve the state of the straw market and help ourselves;
    a)we would look up bahamian businesses and small business owners who are authentic and purchase their goods instead of fake goods; we would support our vendors and buy authentic bahamian crafts and goods and reject the counterfeit goods.
    b)the straw vendors association and the ministry of tourism should put new guidelines in place instructing the vendors what items are allowed in the market and what items are not (and be firm).
    c)the tourists would be educated that fake goods are illegal and that they should not purchase them, and encouraged to only buy authentic legal merchandise.
    d)tourist should also be discouraged from buying fake goods by having them pay duty on these items and allowing the authentic products to remain duty-free.

    We have to realise that there are still alot of proper straw vendors out there who grew up in the straw industry and who were taught by their moms, dads and aunties how to stitch bags, make straw dolls and carve the most beautiful sculptures. They want to excell with their line of merchandise but are very discouraged when they see their conterparts allowed to bring in and sell fake non-straw goods. What is allowed to make a killing for one, is actually killing another.

    Let us protect our heritage and support the all-Bahamian campaign. I Love the Bahamas, the culture, the people and the high Christian morals, and I would hate to see it all go down the tubes because we have been too coward to protect it.

  • No, it’s not time to DO AWAY but to RECREATE.
    I like to try to understand all sides of the story and it seems to me as though the government is torn. They can either allow the straw market to sell China made trinkets (including impostor designer bags) and look bad for it or enforce the law like the States. I have only been living in the Bahamas for a few months and I have already learned that the laws of this country are merely guidelines with no enforcement at all. You can follow them but you won’t be punished if you don’t.
    I feel like if they try to help those who got arrested then they will look like they are for transportation of illegal products. If they don’t I can understand why natives would be betrayed and confused. Like, “Why aren’t they cleaning up the mess they created in the first place?”
    If you’re going to make a law, spend the $10 million to enforce it instead of a market that will only make matters worse. If this alleged market is made then there will almost be no profit because natives will rely on it to make money for them. I would.
    Being a person who makes crafts I can say for sure there is so much that can be made from nature itself. Tourists paid so much money to get here of course they will over pay for a gift to treasure at home. So what if you have to charge more because it was handmade. People who love crafts that are original will be more than happy to pay extra for it. Especially if sell it the right way. Being presentable, allowing the customer to shop, phrasing like, “One of a kind…” the ideas to change this wicked problem are endless.
    The government may be inconsistent but the natives don’t have to be. The tourists want Bahamas, give them what makes this culture what it is. If I came across a bag that was $100 cheaper than where I was from I’d be all over it too. So if we just get rid of them totally than they will only have the handmade crafts to choose from.
    Take this situation as an opportunity. We can make Island Shopping an incredible experience with all our natural resources for next to nothing. Go for it!

  • God don’t sleep and God is not dead, I left the Bahamas in July of 1975 to America just so that I could provide for my son who’s now serving in the US Army. But to make a long story short, Bahamians are just now realizing that the Bahamian Government does not care about the Bahamian people? Well I found that out at a very young age even with the Police department when my Step-Father tried to molest me and I went to the station to report him the police looked at me and asked me if I was crazy, he was only my Step-Father, and if he was feeding me the least I could do is to give him something, I tried attending the Hotel Training College for management, and I was short of $15.00 and the college refused to give me my certificate, and I had to walk away from the college without it. My elderly Mother was abused by the Bahamain Government who refused to pay her the back money that they owed her from National Insurance, even The Bank of The Bahamas which is Government owned stoled the little bit of money she had left in her accout, I contacted the Bahamas Embassy in Washington DC asking them to help me, and the woman who answered the phone told me to put my Mother in the steets and yet people talking about the Straw Vendors the Government will allow those women to die in jail they don’t care, as Bahamians what you all need to do is contact the Government of NY city, and also the NAACP and let them know about the plite of these women write to ABC News and tell them about how the Government has turned their backs on the women and get together as much Bahamians to come to NY and boycott the jail and court house to let these women go, also contact the Steve Wilco show and let him know that you all will be coming to NY on the women’s behalf. I can tell you what to do, but anyone out there in the Bahamas who can put me intouch with someone who is trying to do something for these sister please send me their name and phone number so that I can have more information to work with on this end, this breaks my heart to see how worthless the Government is towards our people, and if we don’t put our feet down and fight for our people the Government will not do it. Here’s my email address

  • The straw market is a business which is based on the laws of demand and supply…This problem is bigger than the straw vendors…as approximately 80% of everything Bahamians consumes are of a foreign origin. If we are being honest, the problem of ‘knock off’ didn’t start with the market, it started with the bay street boys…selling knock off shoes, clothes,soaps, lotions etc. and don’t even start with the supermarkets…you can’t even read the labels……If we are serious about fixing the problem, we can not just try to clean up the market but we must clean up our country and rid it of all forms of knock off….then all will be on an even playing field to do business and make an honest living….Being locked up at home is hard,i can’t imagine what it is to be locked up abroad…Keep the issue alive because help must come to relief the suffering…..its your midnight now…but after midnight a new day appears on the horizon…keep doing what you do vendors to birth men and women like myself who are contributing and law abiding citizens of this great Bahama Land……

  • The writer of the original story must be an anti-PLP. While I think both the PLP and FNM suck, to attack straw vendors seems to be inspired and backed by the rich Bay Street boys and their historic UBP families. Why not focus on poverty in the Bahamas?

    The story is rubbish and, although I think it’s totally retarded to see non-Bahamian made goods (blame both governments) the straw vendors are NOT the problem. The government (PLP and FNM/UBP) and the Bay Street boys and the Bahamian elders are.

    You mean no one thought hire youth to get coconut shells, conch shells, palm branches, and then hire other bahamians to turn these items into commodities that could be sold by straw vendors? Retards

  • Have you ever heard that the receiver is as bad as the thief?

    Well God has finally answered my prayer about the corruption of the Bahamian Government. And if the [Bahamian] Embassy in Washington reads this, remember me, when I called you all to help me with my Mom and you told me to put her in the street? Now the world is seeing how terrible the Government is in the Bahamas,

    Taking the easy way out, the Government is disowning the Venders now that they are in trouble. The rest of the Bahamians better watch their backs. Government turned their backs on the Venders, Government will turn their backs on the rest of you all unless you are related to anyone in Government.

    That is how the story has been and that is how it will always be unless they clean out Parliament.

  • I walked out of Super Value this morning and there was a man selling pirated DVDs. They just don’t get it. Unbelievable!

  • As a former CBP employee in New York now residing in Nassau, I can tell all of you that do not think any arrest are or have been made of those selling illegal goods you are wrong. There have been ongoing raids/arrest for as long as I can remember. You only need to be in NYC and see the vendors trying to close up and hide if they suspect there will be a raid. I have seen it first hand. When bootleg cd and dvd’s were being sold on the street or in the selling booths you could see the vendors running down the street with their carts to keep from being caught. The sad thing about the Bahamian vendors is that they all knew it was illegal to do what they were doing but they took their chances and got caught this time. I blame the Bahamian government for not enforcing and making the laws known to the public in a more mature manner and none of them, including Immigration and Customs Officers can say they don’t know the difference in knockoff and real. They are all supposed to be educated and trained in their positions. Take the time to know the difference. The problem also is some of these politicians and law officers have family members who work in the straw market, so “just look the other way”. Well now what are you going to do about it? You surely must be embarrassed and to think the US government is going to say “o.k. since you don’t have laws we will let them go” or as I have read by others…”return the vendors as a favor since we gave you the barefoot bandit.” Where is your brains some of you Bahamians??

    • Not totally true there are Africans on the street of America who sell illegal items. Many are backed by cops or powerful politicians. It’s all about who is protecting you, all like one mafia. Leave the straw vendors alone.

  • Many good points have been raised in this debate, including, the law, lack of enforcement, duty paid, price, demand, cleanliness, food and rats.

    My first wish is to know that the USA has shut down there illegal operations who have put our Bahamians into this temptation.

    The next thing which has always disturbed me it the lying done by venders to sell the products, claiming to have made products themselves or by Bahamians. Yes, the Arabs as well of others in Bazaars around the world have a reputation of dishonesty, but is this something we wish to portray to our visitors, and have ingrained into there memories.

    I am thinking hard for solutions, but admit it is a Wicked Problem (Google that).

    One idea is to make a marketing campaign to make Bahamian straw and crafts a collector’s item.

    Bring back the Bahamian Love beads, real shakers, place mats, and napkin holders and find a way to sell them for a reasonable cost.

    Even the great country of the USA can not compete with the cheep labor of the east, how can a laid back Island nation? Nothing I suppose is imposable.

  • I think the government should be blamed. I never heard of any arrest of any straw vendors at home for selling counterfeit items.

  • Fear not. Historically, the Bahamas has usually been highly adaptable when it came to nefarious activities. Even now, just as one door appears to be slightly closing on selling counterfeit foreign luxury goods (handbags, watches, etc), it appears another door is already miraculously opening for us to sell fake foreign medicine (medical licence not necessarily required, less accountability, questionable medication and so on). The crooks, however, will be genuine.

  • Simply put this matter is ruining any chance of respect being given to Bahamains. This is about theft, and allowing such trash to be sold here allows the world to think that Bahamians are just a bunch of thieves.
    Do Bahamians want this? I doubt it.
    So the answer is do something about it, shut this trade down.
    The PLP is so very wrong to condone this trade and proves once again that they are the party of immorality.

  • Some recent house guests of ours visited the straw market, and were appalled by the deplorable state of the place, the attitude of the vendors and what they perceived to be a a dangerous and threatening environment. They later went to the Paradise Island straw market and bought back some plaited straw baskets and hats. They said that the area was clean and tidy and that they were not unduly harrrassed by a bunch of leering drug addicts.

    Have you visited the Bahama Art and Handicraft Store on Shirley Street, where EVERYTHING is Bahamian made?

    It is incredible to think that the straw market is even allowed to continue, but with the likes of Brent Symonette backing them the conditions will most likely not improve, and I feel that a lot of our cruiship passengers may be just a few grey cells ahead of the straw market vendors.

  • While we bemoan the loss of our fake handbag industry, we can find joy that Rudy King is creating a fake awards industry with his “humanitarian” award to some African bozo.

  • Whenever I come home, I go to the straw market to find Bahamian products and those are the items I purchase (very few to choose from). Living in the US, I find that there are some Bahamians who are not proud of thier culture and try to be part of the US move or Jamican move or any move that is not Bahamian.

    We need to improve demand that the strawmarket is Bahamian or do away with it. If many Bahamians don’t care about their culture why should the tourist.

    Our items are very expensive…we need to find a way to make it more reasonable. We are not the US, we can’t all be the famous artist or designer and charge those kind of prices.

    Everyone is a professional artist or designer and end up loosing business.

  • WEll, let’s put things in perspective. The Straw Market has looked like a dump for many years going back to the 90’s and that’s a fact. Tourists off the boats tell others to stay clear of run down Bay St.
    Crazy guys shout out on the street and vagrants walk up and down looking like they’ed like to mug you.

    Going there since the 80’s and seeing no let up in sight, I stay on Paradise Island waiting in vain for the gov’t to clean up downtown..fat chance! Zero tolerance is not even heard of in the bahamas for anything let alone the counterfeit goods. People are corrupt or led to corruption when their leaders are rotten and refuse to do their duty.

    When it falls off to zero tourism in Nassau, maybe then the people will realize that their leaders killed the golden goose. What a shame.

  • The article hits home with some hard commonsensical points. We have to resist the easiest path and stick to our cultural guns.

    Jackson Burnside is absolutely correct, we have some handicraft artisans who produce wonderful work and we need to champion the cause and excellence. The time has come for us to eat, drink, sleep authentically Bahamian made products. We am complain about 8,000 Chinese workers coming here but don’t blink an eye about putting 8,000 plus handicraft artisans out of work, by buying and promoting ‘knock-offs’ at ‘our market’.

    BAIC & the Chamber are currently collaborating, along with the Ministry of tourism and Aviation, on an IDB sponsored project to promote the sale and production of authentically Bahamian made products. All stakeholders need to get on board to assist and will certainly be called upon to do so.

    This is huge and has national security implications, as it speaks to national pride and growing & diversifying our economy. Vendors need to understand for every $100 staying in the economy that is $1,000 being created and in circulation.

    This is serious business

  • Simply insert the word drugs in place of handbags. Both items are illegal and should be handled in the same way. Wrong is wrong whether someone is profiting from it or not.

  • Everyone seem to have the answer… The facts remain the facts 9 straw vendors went into a forign country and purchase what they knew to be illigal goods… Nothing else matters… If a man kills another who is at fault, is it the circumstance or is it he the man whom had choices to either kill or not to kill. These vendors had the same choice. We in the Bahamas are famous for our not wanting to take responsibility.. off course the easy way is always to blame someone else other than ourselves in this case its the Governments fault.. how ludicris.. The fault lies at the feet of the vendors. I note however that as a Government with signed treaties with our neighbor to the West, we should do more to discourage the practise of allowing these illegal goods into the country… This also would mean we would have to break ties with China.. the biggest producer of knocj off products and violators of many world registered Patons… The key is alll persons are responsible for their actions and should be judged on this merit… circumstance or because everyones doing it or its a comon practise does not make it right… Think Bahamas…

  • Wolhard v. Krageneck

    It is always the same problem boiled down : Bahamians do not want to work and effectively produce a sellable product, a vegetable, a jam, a pate, a craft or art item, but they rather want to be “unlicensed traders” and make a mark-up on cheap rubbish sold for at wrong price to indiscriminating low-class tourists. Value cannot be created by a mark-up. European Tourists to Cuba buy 2 Cases of 25 High-End Cigars (legal customs quantity), and can recoup their TOTAL expense for their 1-week-vacation including flight to Havana by resale in the European secondary market for TOP cigars. The Bahamas totally eliminated themselves from the european travel Market, and come this 29th October, the Frankfurt flight will be history. Manila-made souvenirs are an insult. “Gucci-like” bags should not be EXPORT items. The bahamian business model is just flawed.

  • This straw vendor issue is a tip of the iceberg.

    As a Bahamian legend whose paid in blood and sweat but gets NO respect home, I know first hand that Bahamian culture, art and geniuses do not sell products often and get no respect from our politicians, media and church.

    Now if you want to bend over your body then you get respect, if you in dey church you get respect, if you conkey joe you get respect, but for the rest of us who are not willing to participate in sexual favors, who aren’t light skinned and who prefer to keep our religious beliefs private, we are just garbage.

    So no wonder straw vendors rarely sell anything Bahamian: 1) The schools don’t teach Bahamian culture and pride; 2) The churches traditionally teach slave and racist ideologies; 3) The government and rich Bahamians see no vision in creating industries that use coconut shells, conch shells, bahamian palm leaves; 4) Most Bahamians aren’t into things Bahamian unless DEY could put it in Dey mouth (conch snack, and ting).

    So let’s be real, the Bahamas has little real pride and is basically of the mentality (usually) of slaves on a plantation.

    Unless we develop a sense of pride and history the Bahamians that have made history (and still few young Bahamians know us) the Bahamians that are proud of the country, will not be recognized and our real culture will die, replaced with American, Jamaican and white culture.

    The politicians are intimidated by Bahamian geniuses and celebrities who can take ZNS and newspaper time, so if they can’t have a Bahamian genius in their pocket, then (for most of the politicians) they don’t want to help give a handup to any Bahamian genius.

    Goodbye Bahamas, it’s basically over !

  • I first visited Nassau in 1988 and have returned 2 & 3 times a year since then. I make a special trip to the straw market each visit and whether I purchase hand carved items or “knock-off” handbags, it quite an experience to shop there. Surely no ones truly believes the handbags are the real high dollar name, but with so many items to be purchased to take home, no one could afford 10 or 12 of “the real thing”. I have brought several bags home and friends have asked for MORE!

    There is a need for more handmade, local crafts such as more wood carvings of parrots,fish,flamingos, carved boxes to hold jewelry & other trinkets, (even “Ready Freddy”), carvd necklaces, picture frames of carved wood, lots of handmade shell items, create straw hats on site, and of course the caps, towels, wrap skirts, cigars, and yes! the knock-off bags. Sell what the tourist want to bring home!

    I will be returning this month and will add another carved parrot to my collection…and another bag or two….It is what it is!

    I enjoy the mingle with the folks on the island.

    • First of all the cruise ships not all but most are registered in the Bahamas, they have deals with the vendors, stores, etc. to get %’s or kickbacks whatever you want to call it. Everyone acts like this is something new all the islands are like this, not to mention how bout our own USA. We have tons of flea markets, I can’t think of one state in the USA that doesn’t have them and I’m sure most of their goods are not legite. So I don’t see what the big deal is, I think of it as generic merchadise instead of brand. With that said if ya don’t like it then don’t buy it. But I will be there in Oct to see if I can find anything that I want again.

      They have found a way to SURVIVE. What other businesses do you see around beside big resorts and who makes the money there not the workers it some big corp. Usually American and not paying taxes so whats the difference?

      I LOVE IT

  • I think the Government is partly responsible for this situation because they have allowed these people to bring these bags into the country and continue to sell them in the market. Things in this country are too slack. I recall the last raid they made in the market for these knock off items. I understand the bags were right back in the market the next day. The Law need to be enforced in this country on a daily basis not once every two years. The police should be prepared to visit that market every day. Everyone has been forewarned. If you are found selling these items you pay the price. Those ladies would not have been in the situation they are in right now had the law been enforced in that market. We need leaders in this country with balls who will do what they know is the right thing to do without being worried about loosing votes. I am sick of every single one of them and the only way I will be going to the polls in 2012 is if there is another party with God fearing persons with intregity. We have a bunch of loosers at the wheel right now and that is why we are where we are today.

  • It is time to do away with the straw market. If straw work isn’t selling and we have too many people selling the same non-Bahamian things, what is the point of it? Festival Place sells authentic Bahamian goods in a comfortable and clean environment. Bahamians and tourists alike should be shopping there instead.

    Times change — once upon a time sponging was big business in The Bahamas. It was hard, but spongers had to find a new line of work. If “straw” vendors can only make money by selling illegal goods, it’s time for the straw market to go.

    Would we be having this discussion if straw vendors had decided to go into prostitution or dealing coke to make ends meet? Illegal is illegal!

  • Authentic straw work is alive, well, and growing!!! And selling!!! Just visit downtown on weekends when the true artisans are out or other cultural events and you will see them. Straw — Jewelry — Photography —!!! These are the ppl who should be enabled!

    As for the fleabag Market, I don’t even take any visitor there. It’s a disgusting eyesore!

    I trust with the new Market we do NOT continue in this vein! One suggestion could be to link many of the works being done by our high school and college students in such a venue. Not all will continue but I bet many will …. there’s lots of good art and craft being produced by students that with encouragement could change the face of this!

    What say we get Bahamians in there and flood it with Bahamian music too!!!

  • It is an unfortunate situation, and that it was allowed to go on for so long.You can sympathise with their situation but right is right, and if you do wrong, especially knowingly that does not make it right, also you must be prepared to face the consequences of your actions. Just as they reaped the benefits of the sales over the years, so now be accountable. As the good book says the small fox spoils the vines it is time for our government to step up and address small issues and be decisive in their stand on small issues and stop waiting until it becomes a national embarrasment. [eg. the numbers issue]

  • Throughout the world Nassau has been know for its straw market – a wonderful reputation for authentic Bahamian made items. Why not have a Bahamian Flea Market and an additional market where only Bahamian-made merchandise is sold (straw items, carvings, paintings, shell craft, etc.) with the Governments seal of approval on “Made in the Bahamas”? This way the tourists will have a choice – flea market bargains or quality items to take home as gifts, etc. As a tourtist, I will pay for quality not trash and fake stuff. There are many flea markets in US where you can purchase this “fake stuff”.

  • With so less Bahamians occupying the Straw Market, I want to pose the question,’Is the Bahamas really for Bahamians?’

  • On the contrary, this is a problem for a destination and people who have and are expected to be authentic. We are exposing the Bahamas, the top warm weather destination in the region to be unreal. We must be above the politics of this. This matter is challenging and explosive. Do not fool yourself, there is more to come.

  • It’s illegal here in the US as well to sell knock off designer bags such as Gucci & Fendi etc. As a young girl growing up in the Bahamas I always admired the venders in the Straw market, so why would they put themselves into that type of situation?

  • Let me see if I get it right on the warped thinking behind this whole subject: It’s okay for the Government to take millions of our tax dollars to build straw vendors their own rent-free “office”. Then it’s okay for these same “tenants” to sell whatever fake merchandise they want to sell in order to make a living and no one should tell them that they are wrong for doing so. In addition, we should spend more money to find them lawyers and bail money because they decided to go to New York to buy fake merchandise and were caught breaking US laws. While I sympathise with them for having to spend time in the USA they did not bargain on happening, somewhere in there a price has to be paid for this long-running error of judgment. Customs are at fault for letting countless vendors bring these fake goods into the country; the Government is at fault for turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to what their “tenants” are doing and not having Customs and/or the Police crack down on these practices a long time ago. Bahamians seem to believe that because they get away with illegal practices for a long time that somehow that makes it all legal. We are woefully deficient on enforcing Intellectual Property rights across the board, from the importation of fake merchandise to broadcasting and music to satellite TV. I’ve been to native markets in other Caribbean countries and this is the only one where I’ve seen fake goods openly sold to tourists. Let’s fix the problem now while it’s out in the open rather than roll over and ignore it.

    • It has always been somewhat shocking to me to see the lack of global awareness exhibited by some Bahamaians.

      It is as if the rest of the world only exists to contribute to the welfare of the Bahamas but we have no responsibilities in return.

      Let the rest of the world worry aboutt conterfeit goods, the child labour used to produce them, the international money laundering and organized crime involved in
      their distribution. “We have our rights”!

      The same attitude applies toward sustainable fishing. Why should “anyone tell us” how we can fish when the waters are being so rapidly depleted that ocean fishing is expected to be extinct by 2050?

      Unfortunately, the Bahamas has riden the coattails of the US economy for the last 30 or 40 years – legally and illegally. Drug trafficking and the well-established practise of running non-Bahamians to the Florida coast are two of the most obvious examples of the later.

      It is a bitter pill for most Bahamians to swallow that this is a small country with a limited economy that is now severely threatened by the US downturn, that it will not recover in the short term and that alternatives have to be sought.

      One solution would be to swallow our pride and accept that we are an emerging economy and should be assembling circuit boards and piecing clothing as workers do in Mexico and Indonesia.

      Too lowly for us? That is a dangerous attitude that will only result in more corruption and an forced lowering of our standard of living with even less recourse.

  • I totally agree that the counterfeit bags are only the symptoms of a much bigger cancer, eating away at the heart of our culture. We have become lazy about producing quality products made to last from materials locally found. We have become a counterfeit society, copying even our own identity. We strive to be others because we no longer have confidence in being ourselves.We have become the pirates that we brag we have expelled.

    We are a SMALL country. We can survive on making first-class, well made products that celebrate what makes us stand out among larger civilizations. We have failed in our education of our people and allowed our people to become ashamed of our modest resources and miss the fact that the proud Bahamian reputation was built out of simple choices. We survived harsh conditions in these islands and made a culture that is the envy of the world.

    Everybody who has traveled the world dreams of settling in our Bahamas. That fact is enough to celebrate.

    We must capitalize on the fact that we already have an established reputation for beauty and simple, barefoot luxury. Ours is the iconic small island lifestyle. That is what we should build on and show-off and all of who we are and what we make and what we offer for sale must reinforce that appreciation with confidence and pride.

    • I think your current exhibit at Doongalik, “Youngie & Exuma”, is a perfect example of the beauty and simplicity of Bahamian culture and telent. Both these artists did nothing fancy, yet their uniquely Bahamian work is internationally recognized and will inspire people long after their passing.

  • For years, my husband and myself were frequent visitors to Nassau and the treat was to go to the Straw Market to buy handmade straw bags and to haggle with the vendors over prices. We noticed the trade changed after the fire and the same items could be purchased at the hotel shops. The location was very dark and dirty and the vendors weren’t as nice as before. Maybe the straw market has outgrown and outlived its time.

  • I’ve heard the excuse that politicians do not want to enforce intellectual property rights because the 600 straw vendors and their familes comprise a large voting block. But I’ve also heard that less than 10% of vendors are Bahamian citizens. They can’t vote anyway. So why is government not enforcing the law?

  • They can not sell the fakes. Bahamian goods either do not sell or are too expensive. Why are we building a new straw market? Make that area a parking lot. Allow locals to shop Bay Street and government can make money on parking.

    • Agree 100%, but it’s too late now. The main structure of the straw market is almost finished.
      Maybe the government can turn it into a parking lot??

  • lol! Agreed, it’s just that this pimple happens to be right on the nose so it’s getting the attention. But there are a lot of other copyright infringement issues that the Bahamas is guilty of.

  • The straw market ain’t the only corrupt thing on Bay Street. Focus on this issue is like talking about one pimple when the whole face got acne.

  • The laws of the land must be carried out. While I agree with the straw vendors that its what the “TOURIST’ want, The USA should go after the real culprits the cruise ship passengers and the cruise lines who’s allowing the tourist to board their ships with counterfiet bags. Many of the Straw Vendors believe that the laws of the land are not for them and they are at liberty to do as they please, well they have landed in the right place, the United States of America where the laws of the land are adhered to…let’s see if they can make a deal in NYC to set them free. Its a warning to the others who think that they can get away with it, you will never know who is watching.

  • You can not justify the selling of the counterfeit merchandise as “just trying to make a living” any more than you can justify a thief robbing banks to just a make a living. It’s wrong and it cheapens the country. I understand the problem that the handcrafts are not selling and that without the counterfeit merchandise these vendors will not be able to sustain their business but would we allow a drug dealer to make that same argument? Those who engage in illegal acts must pay the consequences.

  • This issue is much larger than we are willing to admit. There is an engrained culture by Bahamians that not only is suggestive of short-cuts (whether tempering on legality) but actually seeks to challenge the laws when found in violation of it!

    How stupid we ought to feel when our supposed political want to be’s, are seeking public emotional support in something illegal.

    Finally, lets call things as they are; if you’re ‘wrong’, admit it and stop trying to find public opinion to legalize your activities.

    I don’t think anyone wants to see people seperated from thier families and loved ones, but likewise, you’ve had warnings about breaking the laws; stop and then you don’t ever have to worry about these issues!

    • It is that type of response that has us in the mess we are in. “They just trying to make a living”? Yes by doing something illegal!! We need to stop being so ignorant and stop thinking because we are Bahamians that the rules don’t apply to us.

    • Okay, its easier to rob someone than to work….
      logic? If the bags cost too much then they are not for you. Buy what you can afford.


    • That’s such a typical answer! We always want to blame someone else for our dishonest actions. We are 100% responsible for our own wrong doing and these vendors have to pay the price. I hope they learn a lesson and will find other ways to make an HONEST living!!That’s what’s so wrong in this country now. Everyone does what ever they want, whether it is lawful or not and they expect to get away with it. There are no consequences to be paid!
      Our children hear about this (and other peoples dishonest actions) and nothing happens to them, so they adapt that same attitude, which turns into a way of live! We all have to stand before God one day and account for our actions. Don’t forget that.

  • Why hasn’t the government removed the counterfeit merchandise from the straw market. It seems odd that they would allow the sale of those products to continue even as they are pushing for WTO membership.

  • Selling high-quality Bahamian-made products is more difficult than you think. Cruise ship visitors do not want to pay $250 to bring home a quality bag for Aunt Myrtle. They would rather pay $35 for a Fendi knock-off.

  • They need to prohibit food in the new market. The vendors sit around eating fast food and the whole market stinks. The vendors do not dispose of their trash properly and there are rats everywhere. No food in the new straw market. Build a lunch area for the vendors instead.


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