Straw market reopens

The iconic Nassau Straw Market opened for the first time in nearly 20 months yesterday.

The facility was among the non-essential businesses that closed on March 23, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While other businesses opened in recent months, the Straw Market remained closed.

During a press conference outside the Straw Market yesterday morning, 

Minister of Works and Utilities Alfred Sears, who has ministerial responsibility for the facility, said it was a “matter of priority” to reopen the straw markets.

“The money that they make, those profits are not repatriated to another country,” he said.

“That money is spent right here educating their children, spending it on their mortgages, spending it supporting their families and so on. So this is the measure of the reopening of the economy.”

Sears said roughly half of the 360 vendors who work in the Straw Market downtown are expected to work daily.

He said the Straw Market has been in consultation with the Ministry of Health about the reopening of the facility.

Sears said the ministry proposed a number of health protocols to ensure that the facility is safe.

“Initially, we’re talking about a rotation between two groups — A and B — and for three days one group and for three days another group and one day for cleaning,” he said.

“This is an ongoing process and the federations, in consultation with their members, have put forward certain proposals to rotate on a weekly basis, and that is being considered, and to have the cleanings in the evenings.

“Whatever we do, it has to be done in consultation with the Ministry of Health but we are listening to the stakeholders.”

Rose Beneby, a straw vendor for more than 40 years, expressed concern with the shift system.

“I know everyone is concerned with the three days working and that you might not have enough to pay your stall fee, and they’re going to end up shutting you down after you just open,” she said.

“That’s the big concern of everyone: the three days and you have to pay that 40 something dollars a week and you might not make it.”

Beneby said it was “a little strange” being back to work after more than 20 months.

“I’m not sure how I feel yet,” she said.

“We didn’t think we’d ever get back here. I guess we’re here even though we’re on a schedule. We really don’t know how everything is going to end up but thank God we’re back.”

Christanique Greene, a licensed straw vendor for nearly 10 years, was also happy to return to the Straw Market.

She said it was “a good feeling to be back”.

“It’s been 20 months now so it warms my heart to be able to see a lot of tourists are in,” Greene said.

“Although we are on shifts, I give God thanks for being able to come in. We have four boats in the harbor so hopefully we are all able to make something for the first time in a long time.

“I just started my day and it’s been 20 months since I was able to make a sale. I thank God for that. I just made a sale for first time in 20 months.”

She said the last year and a half was “really rough” for her and her family.

Greene said she was able to survive the pandemic financially because of her husband and “through the grace of God”.

“Some of us in here, many were of the age that they may not have been able to find another job,” she said.

“There are a lot of people who are in their 50s and their 60s and there was nothing else for them to do but stay home and wait it out.”

Yesterday’s reopening came as The Bahamas experiences a lull in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

While more than 30 percent of The Bahamas’ population is fully vaccinated against the virus, officials continue to encourage the public to get vaccinated as the country seeks to reopen more of its economy.

Sears said a “significant number” of straw vendors are vaccinated against COVID-19.

However, he was unable to indicate whether more than half of the vendors are vaccinated. 

“We need to make sure that all of the markets provide everybody who comes in with the assurance and we have a program of encouraging vaccination and also there will be weekly antigen testing…,” Sears said.

He said there are ongoing negotiations with “a number of vendors” to ensure the government gets the best rate for the testing.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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