Officials of a business association, which used to be integral to the betterment of the downtown Freeport area, said, recently, it is back and ready to help re-energize the town center.
On Thursday, the Downtown Freeport Business Association (DFBA) held a meet-and-greet at Sir Jack Hayward Library to make its presence known and, once again, build community among business owners in Freeport.
The DFBA, formed in 2009, is an initiative committed to the advancement of the downtown area through education, financial assistance, marketing and fellowship.
For 10 years, it tried to boost economic growth within the commercial area, providing workshops, forums, marketing opportunities, business expense reductions, and promotional and communal events.
In 2019, Hurricane Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic forced the association to put its efforts on hold.
The meet-and-greet was led by Karen Ferguson-Bain, senior manager of Patient Relations at Rand Memorial Hospital, who advocates for the assembly of downtown businesses to ensure that the “magic returns to the magic city” of Freeport.
“We need everyone singing the same song; singing how magnificent Freeport is; singing how wonderful Grand Bahama is; of the amazing opportunities held right here,” Ferguson-Bain said.
She said the association wants to expand its membership, inviting businesspersons to enjoy free learning opportunities to enrich their business and customer experiences.
Assistant Superintendent of Police Nicola Sears was at the event to assure business owners that the Royal Bahamas Police Force is working to maintain order in the downtown district.
“We are here to partner with the community,” Sears said. “We are out there on the ground speaking with business owners, seeing how best we can assist.”
Sears noted that the community policing team will retain its presence while mobile and foot patrols will be used to increase police visibility within the community.
Derrick Newbold, chief investment officer at the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA), and Ginger Moxey, minister for Grand Bahama, praised the DFBA.
Newbold commended the association for its work, saying that through the unity of the downtown business community, the town center can be revitalized.
“We are now starting to see a number of businesses move into the downtown area,” he said.
“That creates a very significant opportunity for the merchants of downtown to come together and once again make downtown the preferred business center for commerce.”
Newbold noted that the new investments downtown, such as the University of The Bahamas Kipling Complex acquisition and the upcoming Solomon’s, have created momentum which he hopes the DFBA can build on.
Moxey believes a revitalized downtown will also boost tourism.
“We are trying to enhance the experience for visitors,” she said. “Downtown is going to be one of those places that people come to.”
Alex Thompson, DFBA director of public relations, also sees downtown becoming a tourist destination.
“The post office is one of the oldest buildings,” Thompson said.
“We have the Churchill Square which is iconic to downtown. We also have our fruits and vegetable market that offers local produce and crafts offered by artisans here.”
H&L School Supply Bookstore owner, Kelly Russell, a member of the DFBA from its formation, talked about the benefits for business owners.
“There were times when they offered deferrals on licensing fees,” Russell said.
“They [DFBA] came around and did their advertisements on the radio live and we got those done free.”
She also listed reduced workshop costs and admission fees for promotional events as other advantages to her membership.
Eddie Williams, owner of Eddie’s Sewing Machine & Repair Centre, said he is hopeful about a downtown turnaround and the DFBA.
“I’ve been working downtown since 1973,” Williams said.
“It used to be exciting; it used to be busy. It’s not like what it used to be.”
He views the return of the DFBA as a step that will help bring life to the town center.
Thompson said the DFBA is here to be innovative and receptive to its members.
“We’re coming up with new promotional events for downtown,” she said. “We’re inviting business owners to get involved, so they can contribute their ideas.”
DFBA Vice President Shamine Johnson said they are also planning to bring back events such as the Sunday Junkanoo Rush, back-to-school spectaculars, and Christmas Midnight Madness, which was a community favorite.
She reflected on the hardship following Hurricane Dorian and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What this means is that we all have to shift, realign, and pivot how we operate and conduct business,” Johnson said.
“I assure this has given us opportunity to explore, through creativity and collaboration, an all-inclusive approach.”
She said she takes inspiration from a quote by Japanese writer Ryunosuke Satoro, “Individually, we are one drop, but together, we are an ocean.”