A 75-year retail institution becomes latest casualty of COVID-19

One of the oldest businesses in Downtown Nassau is preparing to close its doors permanently, after 75 years of providing some of the island’s most exquisite and delicate homewares to the Bahamian public.

Established in a pre-independence Bahamas in 1946, The Linen Shop has seen its share of turmoil – surviving through multiple recessions, changes in government and an evolving economy – but nothing could prepare it for COVID-19.

Senior buyer for The Linen Shop Gloria Raine said while she considers the store an institution and even though she and her staff are heartbroken, the writing had been on the wall for a long time now.

“Aside from John Bull and I think A. Baker and Sons, that’s another longstanding store, it’s a very small handful left that have any history at all,” she told Guardian Business standing at the entrance of the store.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its ensuing lockdowns and travel restrictions has laid a heavy hand on the business, which over the years has relied mostly on cruise passengers, who have been non-existent since last year in February.

“Downtown used to be a place where everybody loved coming, but as time goes it hasn’t gotten easier. There is no proper parking for people in town. The banks, everybody moved out of town because of the banking, so we lost all local trade and we are totally solely dependent on the cruise ships and now we don’t have that. I mean the writing has been on the wall for a place like us,” Raine said as customers in the store took advantage of its clearance sale ahead of closing.

“And with the kind of people that are renting on Bay Street now and I think with the new port, I don’t see where we’ll fit into any of it. So it’s just time for us to call it a day. I don’t feel as though it’s safe for my children to consider carrying it on. There’s no way to guarantee that there would be an income for them and as much as it was something beautiful and lovely and we’re a third generation – now fourth generation because my daughter is here working – we tried having branches but it doesn’t work.”

Recounting the history of the store, the disappointment that an era had come to an end could be heard as Raine said she wished the store didn’t have to close.

“It was first started by Wilhelmina Johnstone and she just loved the Irish linen from Ireland. She was on Bay Street down where the original BOC building was and then finally found a lovely home on Parliament Street, so the store was there for many years. But with the changing of times we decided to look for something that would catch the eyes of tourists more. We could see that we weren’t getting as many local people coming into town and that’s when we came down to Bay Street,” she said.

“This building is owned by one of the owners, Sir Geoffrey Johnstone and his wife and sister and they were very kind to us and gave us a home here. We’ve leased from them for over 30 years. But it’s 75 years, it’s a long time. I’m glad that we were able to do nice things for The Bahamas.

“We have things that you’ll never find. You’ll never find ladies handkerchiefs anywhere. Even when people come in, whether they’re tourists or locals, everybody talks nicely, they’re quiet, it’s just a lovely atmosphere. It gives you a little peace and we liked that. We always have a bench for the men to sit down. At one point we even served coffee to people. So it’s been a wonderful place. The staff have worked in the place for years and years and never thought about leaving, so that says something about it all. I wish we could carry on.”

For now the store will remain open until its current inventory is all sold.

Though saddened by the closure, Raine said she’s satisfied that The Linen Shop has kept a place in the hearts of Bahamians for generations.

“The nicest thing I’ve heard over the years is the younger generation saying how they would come with their grandmother or their mother and pick out their table runner or their Christmas gifts or the Chinese pajamas for the little ones. That warms your heart that we contribute to a lot of good memories for Bahamians,” she said.

“To even have the girls who work for me come and say, ‘we’ll do everything we can if you want to carry on, we’re here for you’. But now with the pandemic nobody knows what the future is and I can’t afford to go on paying rent when there is no business.”

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Paige McCartney

Paige joined The Nassau Guardian in 2010 as a television news reporter and anchor. She has covered countless political and social events that have impacted the lives of Bahamians and changed the trajectory of The Bahamas. Paige started working as a business reporter in August 2016. Education: Palm Beach Atlantic University in 2006 with a BA in Radio and Television News

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