The quaint, northern community of Speightstown is slowly regaining prominence as a destination for locals and visitors – but business people are adamant that the town must not be a location for investments in the form of towering buildings that could alter its unique character.
They however agree changes were necessary for the historic city to realize its full potential.
With recent investments and the promise of more in the near future, longtime business owners are excited about what the future holds for the small town, which is currently transforming.
A number of new restaurants like Hugo’s and The Orange Street Grocer have popped up and are attracting a healthy mix of patrons.
When Barbados TODAY visited, ‘chief cook and bottle washer’ at Orange Street Grocer Nick Viera was overseeing a restaurant that was so busy, he could only spare a few minutes to speak with the team.
He said over the last eight years, the approximately three restaurants present in 2013 had ballooned to well over 15.
“We’re becoming a little food hub of the island . . . people love the charm of Speightstown, they love the authenticity, the old adage, the history that it has to offer and now we’ve become a culinary destination, said Viera.
He and many others were however adamant that sweeping improvements were needed to certain infrastructure and amenities including the road system, jetty and the general upkeep of the town.
Many are calling for a one-way system on the coastal Queen Street and for better provisions for parking, to avoid being ticketed by police for parking along the streets.
Operator of the popular seaside bar and restaurant, Fisherman’s Pub, Clement Armstrong agreed and even appealed for authorities to examine a more innovative system of transport along the West Coast.
“This is over 30 years I was talking about water taxis. With the beautiful West Coast that we have, why can’t we transport people from Bridgetown to Speightstown?” he asked, while refuting claims that Speightstown, which is over 400 years old, was ever a dying town.
“Speightstown never died. History never dies,” he said with a smile.
In fact, Armstrong said many people were only recently beginning to appreciate the uniqueness of the small town.
“People like the quaintness, people don’t want to be pushed around. Tourists come on holiday and they like to relax. We have a big beach behind here.
“Farley Hill is just 15 minutes from here. Bathsheba is another 45 minutes, the Wildlife Reserve, Animal Flower Cave . . .Everything in tourism is in the north of the island,” he said.
At the Orange Street Grocer, Viera agreed. He also stressed the need for Speightstown to modernize its operations while maintaining its historic appeal and charm.
He said businesses continued to cooperate under the Speightstown Trust Committee to ensure a united position on the image, which the town should continue to maintain.
“To come in and put glass buildings and mega structures, that’s not going to work and there would be several of us who would be opposed to it, because I think you can still develop the town without spoiling it,” Viera added.
He was however excited about the possibilities presented by the arrival of mega brand Sandals Beaches to the north of the island.
“Speightstown will be heavy with foot traffic. Despite Sandals Beaches being an all inclusive . . . the people will go out because Barbados still offers a safe environment to its guests and staff of probably about 900 – 1300 people working at that unit, will be passing through Speightstown to get their supplies, either catch the bus, get gas, eat at the restaurants, buy some bread at the breadshops, whatever.
“They will use the businesses and services in Speightstown. So all of a sudden we will see a constant foot traffic which we don’t currently see throughout the slower periods of the year. That now will be fulfilled because Sandals is a known worldwide product which runs between 75 and 89 per cent occupancy throughout the year . . . and that’s coming here to our neighborhood,” he said.
On the other end of the main street, Bar Manager at Juma’s Restaurant Antoine Johnson told Barbados TODAY that the improvements have been gradual.
“It is getting better everyday. I wouldn’t say that the problems on the south coast are pushing people toward Speightstown. People are really putting effort into making Speightstown a major tourist destination in Barbados right now.”
Adrianna Worrell an employee at PRC Bakery, on Orange Street near the Speightstown Esplanade said although the small bakery had long been a mainstay for locals, even tourists were starting to frequent the establishment in recent years.
She too believed the town was in a stage of transformation.
“I think there’s still a historic side, but there’s also somewhat of a modern tradition going on while some buildings are still trying to maintain a historic feel,” she said.
Peter Ward, whose first visit to the town was almost 20 years ago, told Barbados TODAY he was very pleased with the changes that had taken place.
“I haven’t been here for five years but it is developing . . . I think it would be a shame if it went too far. I think the town has the perfect balance [between old and new] right now.
“Twenty years ago it was very unspoilt . . . but when I look around now there’s fresh paint everywhere and there are new bars and restaurants opening everywhere and it has got a good feel,” he said.