By DIANE PHILLIPS
Once the avenue of luxury shopping dreams, today’s Bay Street is more accurately the ageing T-shirt capital of The Bahamas. All is far from lost. The basic bones of historic Nassau’s extraordinary architecture are still intact. From overhead, the A-lined roofs atop tall, narrow structures remain nearly pure and intact. The expanse of lawn at Government House, sadly hidden from view by a wall that should be replaced by lattice or removed altogether, the hidden garden of the cathedral, the view of Forts Fincastle and Charlotte are all signs that the promise of revitalisation is worth holding onto. And on West Hill Street, the recent hanging installation of rows of vibrantly coloured umbrellas shows how easy it is transform a slice of road into a work of art that lifts the spirit and brings an inevitable smile to the face. The entire Garzaroli family should be commended along with Historic Charleston and the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas for the beauty that is West Hill Street.
Kudos always to those on Bay Street and its side streets who choose quality over quantity and find their own market. John Bull, Coin of the Realm, Brass & Leather, Cole’s of Nassau, Quantum.
But on most of Bay Street itself, there is less reason for positive thinking. The shops that once offered the finest in silver, china and silks, in brass and copper antiques, in rare books and prints are vanishing at a rate never before experienced.
It did not happen overnight. They began closing slowly, one at a time, usually because of personal not market reasons. Treasure Traders with its glittering glassware, sterling silver and fine Rosenthal china, Solomon’s/Little Switzerland with its wall to wall luxury and window display of a $55,000 Lalique glass table, The Scottish Shop with its array of cashmere and fine wool sweaters, capes and caps, Marlborough Antiques that sold pens, postcards and coffee table books among other personal treasures, Balmain Antiques with rare prints, maps and archival framing services, Nassau Art Gallery where Elise Wasile painted, sold and told tales that would make anyone fall in love with her and The Bahamas she drew, affixing the images forever on items as practical as ash trays – they are all gone.
Now in rapid-fire momentum, all of a sudden in a single month, more of Bay Street’s legend has been erased.
One day Fendi was open, its windows bearing offerings of Fendi’s distinct style of shoes and handbags, the next day, its doors locked, white paper covered the windows. Closed for business after decades of success. Across the street, directly to the east, within the same week in March, Blanc du Nil posted a notice: Closing down sale. At $35 for a stylish pure white cotton sundress, shirt or slacks, price point should not be an issue as it might have been for high-end Fendi with bags and shoes with tags that ranged into the four figures.
The problem is not that Fendi or a store like Treasure Traders was wrong for Bay Street. The problem is that Nassau, once viewed as a glamorous, romantic vacation haven, has in recent years been sold as a bargain destination. Even the new TV ads for Atlantis which feature enviable family experiences end with a shot advertising room rates as low as $199.
Let’s be honest with ourselves for a change. Instead of appealing to the Fendi, Rolex or Cartier client, or those who love Four Seasons at Ocean Club or Rosewood at Baha Mar, we are saying to the world come visit us for less. And then we are surprised that T-shirt shops and quick fix make-up parlours, many seemingly operated by non-Bahamians, dominate what was once the street of shopping dreams. We look at spring breakers heading to the Tiki Hut on Junkanoo Beach and don’t stop to think that spring breakers don’t go to The Breakers in Palm Beach, the Plaza or the Ritz in New York or the Mandarin Oriental. They go to Cancun, Mexico and Nassau, Bahamas because they are cheap and maintain the allure of foreign destination.
Declining trade on a street that is losing its upscale appeal one shop window at a time can be accepted as a sign of the times or it can be reversed. But the rescue will require a champion. There is no organisation dedicated on a full-time basis to revitalization. There is no mayor, no plan, though the Downtown Nassau Partnership has tried and continues to insist that progress is being made. When vertical construction takes place east of East Street, and a population of young professionals and older couples wanting to downsize takes up residence, the city of Nassau has a very good chance of coming back to life stronger than ever.
Until that time stop lamenting the loss and understand it’s our own fault for failing to market ourselves as the extraordinary one-of-a-kind vacation and leisure time treasure that we are. When we stop selling ourselves short, the rest of the world will show us the respect we deserve and should command.
Questions I can’t help asking myself
Here are a few questions that probably don’t even have or deserve an answer but that did not stop me from thinking about them.
• What would Donald Trump have done if he were president before Twitter?
• Why was our landline phone service better when BTC was a monopoly?
• If electricity costs less, would we use more?
• Why do fools fall in love?
• Why did they have to make sweets taste so good if they didn’t want you to eat them?
• Why in a country where just over half the population is female is there only one female member of Cabinet?