The writing seems to be on the wall for one of Barbados’ once bustling craft markets.
Yesterday a Barbados TODAY team visited the Pelican Craft Centre in Bridgetown only to discover that many shops were either closed or on the brink of closure, with some operators already sounding the death knell of the overall village.
There were reports earlier this year that the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) was going after clients for outstanding rent and that some shop owners were locked out of the Pelican complex.
This after Minister of Industry, Commerce and Small Business Development Donville Inniss reported last December that tenants had owed the BIDC some $15 million in arrears, up from $10 million in 2014.
Since then, Government has been seeking to outsource management of the under-patronized Pelican complex.
During the hour-long visit only a trickle of traffic was seen, with a total of five tourists making their way in and out of one of the souvenir shops without making any purchases.
To add to the apparent doom and gloom, at least one business, which was not identifiable by name, had also erected a sign at its entrance informing customers that instead of the usual six days, it would now be open only four days a week.
And while the doors to Light Body Wholistic Clinic remained open, its owner Chantel Selman reported that business on the whole was difficult, with Pelican “dying a very slow and painful death”.
She blamed the local authorities, saying the recent development of the Bridgetown Port as an all-inclusive, which sells many of the very items available in Pelican, was partly at fault.
“This was here first, and then when they [redesigned] the port they put craft people and food and everything down there,” Selman complained.
She also suggested that in the absence of a footpath directly in front of the craft centre, many cruise ship visitors preferred to walk along the seaside as they make their way into the capital.
“If you had the option of walking here [in front of Pelican] or going and overlooking the sea, which one would you choose?” Selman asked, explaining that visitors tended to “walk past Pelican” and patronize other businesses in the heart of The City.
Her assessment was shared by Nicole Harry, who recently started working in the village, which up until February this year comprised 25 retail shops, 14 workshops, a wine bar and bistro, restaurant and an annex with an art gallery, all on 262,945 square feet of space.
“It is very hard for . . . us,” Harry told Barbados TODAY.
“People would think that Pelican is right here by the port and all the tourists come in, but no! When the tourists come in on the ship they walk on the right side of the road by the sea and they go straight to town.
“So, if you are in Pelican and you don’t have your own clientele, you cannot make it, as you cannot depend on the tourists,” she explained.
However, the owner of Sparky’s Bar and Bistro, Steve Marshall, said due to patronage from workers in the Harbour Road area, the going had not been as tough for him, even though he would like to see more tourists patronizing his food establishment.
Just recently businesses in the greater Bridgetown area made a direct appeal to Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy to do more to lively up The City, with some openly complaining to him that Bridgetown was too dead.
“We want to give people things to do. We want a city that is alive, inviting, not sitting all the time. We want entertainment, a moving city,” said Jackie Harewood-Pope of Furniture Limited, while calling for facilities such as a movie theatre and bowling alley.
And despite Sealy’s objection to the suggestion that Bridgetown was dead, Harewood-Pope received support from her boss Ram Mirchandani, who said “the amount of people we used to get for purchasing in Bridgetown has [slowed down].
“When we say Bridgetown is dead, it is not from the point of view of people not walking around, but it is the money that is being spent in town. The majority of the people go out of town for their shopping and otherwise,” the City businessman had reported, while pointing out that many Government offices had been relocated from Bridgetown and that the promised move by the University of the West Indies to the old Mutual Building had not yet become a reality.
However, Government is planning a major spruce-up of The City to make it more welcoming to Barbadians and visitors alike.
The plan includes providing new, informative signage, increasing the number of public toilet facilities, installing tour guide paths, making historic signs more attractive and making sidewalks accessible for the physically challenged.
Funding for the project will be provided through a US$20 million Inter-American Development Bank loan, which covers the period 2014 to 2018.