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2005-10-24 14:40:53

International Bazaar At A Crossroads

The International Bazaar, renowned for its elegant boutiques, top-class restaurants, and jazzy nightspots, is at a crossroads.

With only 35 of the 82 stores left open, the future of the historic shopping centre is in jeopardy.

The former shopper's paradise, once boasted unique finds from all over the world. The Bazaar was divided into sections representing the world of shopping, from locations such as Africa, India, the Orient, France, South America, and others.

Many of these boutiques offered great deals on merchandise, including watches, fine leather, French perfume, and exotic wares.

With the closure of the Royal Oasis Resort - which came after Hurricane Frances in September 2005 - the 10-acre complex is now suffering from a lack of traffic and support from visitors who once flocked to the location in droves.

Christopher Paine, vice president of the International Bazaar Owners Associations, said the centre is for the first time depending on locals for most of its business.

"The Bazaar really has not exclusively been promoted for Bahamians, but it's been a fortunate occurrence [that Bahamians are supporting it]," he said. "The problem is creating a reason for Bahamians to come here and providing the kind of merchandise they're looking for."

Loren Wells-Dellauze, who manages three stores in the Bazaar - Freeport Jewellers, Goldfinger Jewellers, and The Curiosity Shop - agrees.

Speaking with The Bahama Journal on Friday, she said the stores have been fortunate that Bahamians are keeping them open.

"Since the hurricane, things have gotten so bad. The International Bazaar is a graveyard; you can hear a pin drop," she said.

Mrs. Wells-Dellauze said owners of the stores are grateful for the support of Bahamians who prefer to shop at the International Bazaar than to travel to the Port Lucaya Marketplace.

She said only a handful of tourists visit the Bazaar because the taxi drivers prefer to take visitors to the Port Lucaya location where there is more activity.

"When the tourists come to the Bazaar and it resembles a graveyard, they want to know where they are being taken," Mrs. Wells-Dellauze said.

"So they start to question how many of the stores are open."

She said it is difficult when they realize how many stores are closed and she believes it "kills the ambience for shopping".

Mr. Paine agreed with that assessment.

He said with a third of the boutiques closed, it "sends a negative message, giving the impression that not much is going on."

The Ministry of Tourism has offered its assistance by subsidizing transportation from the hotels in Port Lucaya. This way the International Bazaar benefits from a small percentage of tourists' dollars.

Terrence Roberts, director of business development and public relations in the Ministry of Tourism in Grand Bahama, said the Ministry has put in place a programme to support the International Bazaar on a temporary basis.

"We've been able to solicit the cooperation of participating hotels, allowing their visitors to come down to the International Bazaar as a tour," he said.

In an effort to create better ambience and a semblance of island activity, visitors are greeted with music and a complimentary fruit punch when they arrive.

While the problem of low visitor arrivals persists, both storeowners and the International Bazaar Association are planning to infuse enthusiasm for the declining landmark by promoting the location for holiday shopping.

Doswell Coakley, president of the Chamber of Commerce, suggested that the International Bazaar has suffered a decline due to the closure of the Sunrise Highway which runs between the location and the Royal Oasis Resort.

He said the road, which was transformed into a man-made beach, isolated the International Bazaar to some degree, and stifled the potential for more consumer activity.

Mr. Paine suggested that in order to bring the Bazaar back to its former prominence, there would have to be a single ownership.

At the moment there are 12 to 13 owners.

He said that the Port Authority owned the International Bazaar in the 80s, but sold it off to individuals or companies.

Mr. Paine, who is one of the owners, indicated that any hopes for re-development wouldn't work well with individual owners.

He said that the present ownership represents people of different interests and not the single objective needed to make significant progress.

Mr. Paine also noted that the great dependence on the local market for support is unrealistic because the population isn't large enough to support the Bazaar.

He would like to see the International Bazaar restored to the authenticity of its "glory days."

The International Bazaar thrived on the global concept of providing the regional wares of a country in its own unique area. At present, that is not the case.

"However, if you're a landlord with only a few stores open, you can't be so choosey," Mr. Paine said.

He indicated that the owners would be willing to give up their ownership for the benefit of the location.

Offering a few ideas and comparing the potential of the Bazaar to the experience that exists at Atlantis on Paradise Island, Mr. Paine expressed confidence.

"We remain hopeful and optimistic," he said. "I believe something good is going to happen."

By: Daphne McIntosh, The Bahama Journal

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