Straw vendors struggling to make ends meet amid market closure for more than a year

Straw vendors struggling to make ends meet amid market closure for more than a year

NASSAU, BAHAMAS  — President of the Straw Business Persons Association Esther Thompson said yesterday that while the homeporting of several major cruiseliners in The Bahamas will benefit some sectors, it does not signal a return of activity for vendors of the Nassau Straw Market, which has been closed for over a year.

Despite The Bahamas reopening most parts of the economy since late last year, including gyms, the straw market has remained closed since March 28, 2020,

“Our position has always been that we want to open at least a week before the cruise lines return,” Thompson told Eyewitness News.

“We haven’t been given approval as yet, but we are in talks with the Straw Market Authority on all of the vendors returning at the same time.

“That is the discussion we are having now.

“We’re not having a discussion about the reopening of the market with the authority at this time. The discussion is how are the vendors going to return with social distancing. We don’t have a reopening date for vendors to return.”

Addressing the media outside of Cabinet on Tuesday, Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister said discussions were ongoing with health officials and the Straw Market Authority as to how vendors could reopen safely.

“The Straw Market Authority is speaking with the health officials and they are trying to ensure that we’re going to have a safe environment in the market

“I think it is very important to understand the challenges we have with respect to COVID and the conditions in the straw market.

“So, it is important for a final decision to be made and as soon as they make a decision, I’ll let you know.”

But the minister suggested that the marketplace was a potential hotspot for COVID-19, noting that a single case in the environment could spiral into widespread among vendors and visitors alike, even despite vaccination — though substantially reducing the chance of becoming critically ill and dying.

He said a friend who was fully vaccinated with Pfizer in the United States contracted the virus last week.

“Vaccines protect you to a certain point; what vaccines do is ensure if you get COVID, you do not get it as seriously and you’re possibly not hospitalized,” Bannister said. “It doesn’t mean you’re not going to get it.”

He continued: “Just imagine someone goes in that straw market and passes COVID onto one vendor. That’ll be throughout the market in a day and that will be throughout our country in a day. We have to be really careful.”

According to Bannister, plans are in motion to have vendors from Festival Place relocate to Rawson Square, but there have been concerns about competition.

Bannister said the move was something being performed by the Ministry of Tourism and does not fall within his portfolio.

Seabreeze MP Lanisha Rolle also raised the plight of the straw market vendors during the budget debate in the House of Assembly on Tuesday and questioned the delay in having the vendors rendered.

Royal Caribbean Cruises plans to begin homeporting this week.

Royal will only allow fully vaccinated adults to cruise, while passengers under the age of 18 can sail with negative RT PCR test results.

Crystal Cruises plans to make a return to ocean operations in July, and is expected to homeport Crystal Serenity in The Bahamas through to at least October.

However, Thompson said the move does not translate to activity for straw market vendors, who rely on visitors who stay for the day or overnight to patronize their stalls.

“From my understanding, these are just homeport ships,” she said.

“These are not really the cruise ships that cater to us.

“I can see the hotels; maybe the taxi drivers really benefiting from this endeavour, but for us I don’t see the return for our type of tourist market.

“The cruise that stays all day or goes the next day or they stay for however many numbers of hours, that’s our market.  That’s not what is happening as yet.”

Asked how vendors were surviving, Thompson said vendors have been receiving assistance via the government’s unemployment benefit assistance.

“Vendors are not really surviving,” she said.

“I mean they are surviving, but you know what I am saying, they’re not in a good economic place.”

Thompson said it would be good in straw market vendors could tap into the hotel market, where the association could rotate vendors, but she said the Ministry of Tourism was already doing this.

“What a lot of the Bahamian people don’t understand is we are in direct competition with tourism because they create their own market and they have these people who they would call and whatever,” she added.