Craft Market proves its worth

Almost a year on from when it opened in its new permanent home on the waterfront in George Town, and Cayman Craft Market is achieving its goals and more.

Craft Market

Kevin MacPhie offers information to visitors on the saltwater taffy on offer at the Craft Market.
Photo: Cliodhna McGowan

Last September when it opened up, on the junction of South Church Street and Boilers Road, it was hailed by Tourism Attractions Board CEO Gilbert Connolly as a new chapter for the growth of the arts and crafts industry here in Cayman.

Originally set up to help promote local artisans, it has achieved that goal with reasonable success, said Craft Market Manager Jean-Eric Smith.

‘The market has also opened doors for a number of young Caymanian entrepreneurs,’ he said.

But the market has also achieved more than that by also enhancing Cayman’s tourism product. ‘The vendors grouping together have made it a community issue to promote the Cayman Islands though their crafts. It is a great place to get set up in a business and market your ideas.’

But although a tourist trap, the attraction has not been visited by many local residents and now they are being urged to visit and experience what it has to offer.

Although the day to day management is under Mr. Smith, it is Mr. Connolly of the TAB who is ultimately over the facility.

Low season has been consistent, said Mr. Smith.

‘The ships come in on a two-week cycle – one good week, one not so good week. The calm weather thus far in the season has helped because not too many ships have had to be diverted to the Spotts Dock,’ he said, noting that the main difference for high season was just more overall volume of visitors to the market.

‘The ships coming from the US tend to be better spending customers as opposed to the other ships,’ he said, but added that this could be due to there being no language barrier.

Vendor Levon Bodden has been selling his wares at the market for the past four to five months and says it is a viable way to do business, if you have a popular product. His handmade jewellery, bags and crafts made from seeds, shells and glass beads prove to be just that. He would like to see more local residents using the market, he said.

Vendor Sonia Williams said some days are slow, but at least the ships are getting into port.

Kevin MacPhie of Cayman Taffy Company said business is up and down, which is to be expected for low season. Vending there two and a half months now, he said on the whole it has been good, with lots of children around to buy taffy.

The running of the Craft Market has not been without its challenges, said Mr. Smith.

‘There have been a few incidents where management has had to investigate the origin of certain items sold by vendors in the market. The sale of non-Caymanian made products in the market would be a violation of a vendor’s licence and could result in the revocation of the licence.

‘At the same time management tries to ensure that a variety of Caymanian products are sold in the market,’ he said.

There have also been a couple of conflicts between the vendors, which is largely attributed to personality differences, Mr. Smith said. Disciplinary actions have been taken against two vendors because of this.

Marketing-related challenges have also cropped up, including getting the word out to the public that the market is open to everyone and not just tourists. Being included as a tour stop by the tour operators has also been a challenge. The circular drive on Boilers road was built to allow easy access to the market for the tour buses, Mr. Smith noted.

Now a proper entranceway has been added to the corner of the Craft Market. It displays a hand carved sign on a piece of local mahogany with the name of the market on it.

Signs for the Craft Market are located on both the north and south terminals, however recently the north terminal sign was defaced.

‘This will be replaced in the near future with an even more colourful sign to invite the tourists to the market,’ Mr. Smith said.

While during high season there are a variety of musicians that play at the Craft Market, there has not been any live music for the low season. However, the Tourism Attractions Board is in the process of purchasing a Public Address system which will provide recorded music when live music is not available.

When the Craft Market opened nearly a year ago, last September, there were 18 vendors. There are now 22, with approximate spots for between six and 10 more vendors.

But the aim is for the area to be free flowing and uncluttered.

‘We would need to take into consideration whether they would need table space or use a freestanding display or trolley,’ explained Mr. Smith. ‘The board does not want the market to be over crowded. They would prefer space to move about and have an airy feeling about the location.’

The diversity of goods available at the Craft Market is wide, with products ranging from hats and T-shirts, conch shells, wood carvings, jewellery, ornamental items, thatched wares, sea salt and taffy. The prices are also wide ranging, with customers paying anything from US$2 upwards for goods.

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