Let’s help downtown retailers

The Port of Nassau is one of world’s major passenger cruise ports. Last year 2.6 million cruise passengers visited. Downtown Nassau is a major retail center as a result.

Commercial activity is vibrant between the Hilton and East Street. Hundreds of people are employed in these stores.

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

Thousands attend. Tickets are sold. Bleachers are set up for attendees.

There has been debate for years as to whether downtown is still the best place for Junkanoo. The festival, crowds and costumes are large.

Proponents of change argue the parades have outgrown the downtown commercial zone. Junkanoo remains there, however.

What is unfair about the Junkanoo set-up is what is done with the bleachers every holiday season.

There is limited public parking on Bay Street. The bleachers are erected on that parking during the mid to latter part of December.

The bleachers are large. They block potential customers’ view of the stores.

Every year these businesses that invest in The Bahamas and pay staff have their potential limited at the busiest time of the retail year.

Ed Fields, Downtown Nassau Partnership (DNP) managing director, last week, in a statement to The Tribune, expressed “extreme disappointment” over the placement of bleachers on Bay Street far ahead of the parades. He said the area “looks like a prison rather than a city center”. We agree.

“We approached government with a solution very early this year, but the process one must go through with respect to change is vexing to say the least,” Fields said.

“An RFP (request for proposal) should have been sent out by the second quarter at the latest, but did not go out until it was too late to attract other bidders. This is no longer an issue of commerce versus Junkanoo.

“Frankly, it has all been to the detriment of the retail business for the past decade or so. It is now time for a balanced approach. It can no longer be about a benefit to one set of stakeholders over another. It can be win-win for all.”

Fields described a better arrangement.

“There are bleachers than can be rolled in and folded up the night before the parades, and towed away after the parades. We have contacted experts and offered to bring them in at our expense, and you can bet we will do it next year starting in January,” he said.

“We are satisfied that we will work favorably with the Ministry of Culture, like we did with the erection of the Christmas tree this year, to ensure that the Christmas spirit is returned to Bay Street.”

The government must make pursuing this solution a priority. Bahamians always talk about maximizing cruise passenger spend. Blocking in stores at Christmas with bleachers cuts the amount they can make from those passengers. It also cuts their potential with Bahamian shoppers.

We have had double-digit unemployment for essentially a decade. There have been many years of recession and stagnation since the financial crisis of 2008. Growing the economy is a priority. Hurting the stores hurts The Bahamas.

There is no question that the bleachers diminish downtown retail sales. By how much? It’s hard to tell. Imagine if they were not there and stores could again set up lovely holiday 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.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The government should commit to ensuring this year is the last year that the bleacher situation harms downtown retail.

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