Can the once famous International Bazaar be salvaged?

Dear Editor;

According to Bahamas Vacation Guide, the International Bazaar is one of the oldest shopping areas in Freeport, and it truly lives up to its name. Apparently the administrators of Bahamas Vacation Guide website have not updated their information on the Bazaar for years.

The tourism website’s acknowledgement of the closure of the Royal Oasis Resort and Casino after Hurricanes Jeanne and Frances is a glaring indication that the entry was penned post 2004 – the year of the two storms.

Since that year, tourism on Grand Bahama as well as the International Bazaar, have both been on a downward trajectory. Both the International Bazaar and Port Lucaya Marketplace have been the featured attractions of Freeport for decades. Indeed, thousands of vacationers to the city have looked forward to visiting both sites.

The Bazaar, in its heyday, was unique in that its different sections represented different parts of the world, hence the appellation “International Bazaar.” The Bazaar used to offer Chinese, Italian, Middle Eastern, African and French stores and restaurants.

Over the past 14 years, many of the stores at the Bazaar have closed their doors due to the lack of business. This comes as no surprise, as the Bazaar had piggybacked on the Bahamas Princess Resort and Casino for decades. Indeed, the success of the Bazaar was contigent on the success of the closed resort. When the resort closed its doors in 2004, that sounded the death knell of the shopping complex.

In addition to approximately a dozen straw venders, a few bar rooms and a few miscellaneous businesses, there are about eight churches which are currently operating at the International Bazaar. The fact that churches are now operating at a tourism mall bespeaks the degree of desperation that the principals of the Bazaar have in getting tenants in there, no matter who they are. There have also been rumors of homeless Grand Bahamians who call the once famous shopping center their home.

The International Bazaar is now an eyesore. It is a major embarrassment to the city of Freeport. It gives the thousands of tourists who sees it en route to Port Lucaya a bad impression of our tourism product.

On the Trip Advisor website, the reviews by tourists on the Bazaar are heart-rending. There are 86 reviews in total, and all of them are negative, to put it mildly. One reviewer from Columbia, South Carolina said that the Bazaar is a run down, abandoned place.

This particular reviewer further said that he wouldn’t recommend tourists visiting the International Bazaar, as it is run down and seedy, and that there is very little there. Another reviewer, this one from Colorado, dubbed the Bazaar a “Ghost Town.”

He said that there’s just a few local vendors there with many empty stores and buildings. These are the kinds of reviews on the International Bazaar one will encounter on Trip Advisor. One can imagine these tourists spreading this negative information back home to other potential visitors.

I understand that during the early morning hours of March 6, some straw venders were displaced after a fire destroyed their shops at the Straw Market in the International Bazaar. Free National Movement MP for Central Grand Bahama Iram Lewis must be commended for pledging to assist the distressed vendors, although one has to question the level of business activity at the Bazaar, considering it is in such a dilapidated condition. Will the ownership of the International Bazaar rebuild the burned down Straw Market? Is it even economically feasible to do so?

Was the inventory of the straw vendors insured? I highly doubt it. I am an optimistic Grand Bahamian. But I cannot envisage the International Bazaar returning to its pinnacle of success unless the adjacent Royal Oasis Resort and Casino is completely torn down and rebuilt and reopened. In order for the Bazaar to succeed, the resort has to reopen. There’s simply no getting around this fact.

And at this juncture, what is the likelihood of that happening? I think a common sense approach regarding the International Bazaar would be for it to be demolished. Its continued deterioration coupled with the landlords’ apparent unwillingness to inject substantial amounts of funding into the complex with the aim of salvaging it are perhaps a sobering indication that it is time to now move on from the International Bazaar.
~ Kevin Evans

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