Saturday, Jul 21, 2018
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It’s not fair to downtown businesses

The Port of Nassau is one of the top 10 passenger cruise ports in the world. In 2016, it welcomed 2.56 million cruise visitors, according to data from the Ministry of Tourism.

With all the foot traffic, downtown Nassau is a major retail center from the British Colonial Hilton to East Street. The area east of East Street is largely a derelict zone.

The majority of stores in the busy part of the downtown cater to the large number of cruise visitors who come here each year – though some have a significant local clientele, too.

Commercial activity is vibrant between the Hilton and East Street. Hundreds of people are employed in these stores. Downtown businesses bring millions of U.S. dollars into the economy.

Junkanoo is the country’s premier cultural festival. Its two main events are the Boxing Day and New Year’s Day parades, which are held downtown, on Bay Street.

Thousands attend, including Nassuvians, Bahamians from other islands and visitors from around the world. Tickets are sold for the parades and the government sets up bleachers for attendees.

There has been debate for years as to whether or not downtown, in the city of Nassau, is still the best place for Junkanoo. The festival and crowds are large, as are the costumes.

Proponents of change argue that the parades have outgrown the downtown commercial area. That debate has not resulted in Junkanoo moving, however.

What remains unfair about Junkanoo, which has been noted many times, is what is done to downtown businesses every holiday season.

There is limited public parking on Bay Street. The Junkanoo bleachers are set up on that parking during, let’s say, mid-December. The bleachers are large. They block potential customers’ view of the stores.

Every year these businesses, which invest and pay staff, have their potential limited at the busiest time of the retail year. Parking is taken from them, and they can’t be fully seen.

There is no question that the bleachers hurt the sales of downtown merchants. By how much? It’s hard to tell. Imagine if they were not there and the stores could again set up lovely displays visible to those on the streets. How many more people would stop in? How much more revenue could they lure?

Considering all the people they hire, the taxes they pay, having the bleachers there during the holiday season is unfair to the businesses. This has been a long-standing complaint, but government seems unconcerned.

Retail stores take in a disproportionate amount of their annual revenues during the holiday season. A store, for example, that expects to take in 20 percent of its annual take during this period would not meet its full potential if it were to face barriers to commerce. Less revenue intake would mean less growth for the business, fewer employees and less revenue to pay the government in taxes.

The government plans to focus on what it has to do to incentivize the redevelopment of the downtown area in the city of Nassau.

As part of the government’s push, we suggest it take a look again at this bleacher issue. If Junkanoo stays on Bay Street – which seems likely – we should examine what else could be done to change how bleachers are erected.

We don’t claim to have the answer, but the status quo is unacceptable. We need growth. We need to attract more locals and visitors to stores during the holidays. What we are doing is hostile to the business people who have taken a risk downtown.

It doesn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t be this way.

 

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