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Retailers back 'bigger and better' Harbour Nights

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Hamilton's weekly Harbour Nights street fair promises to be bigger and better than ever before after organisers decided to give the flagging event a major make over this season.

Plans to expand the Front Street festival to include Queen Street and Reid Street have already been unveiled by the Chamber of Commerce.

And the organisation now says the event has been given the backing of 90 percent of City retailers, who pledge to open their doors for late-night shopping when the first Harbour Nights kicks off next Wednesday evening.

Stores will be promoting 'Made in Bermuda' products that can be found only on the Island, giving visitors a uniquely Bermudian shopping experience.

In another drive to liven up the event, the Chamber is seeking to obtain a licence to allow alcohol to be served from several 'pop up' vendors, enabling visitors to stroll through the pedestrianised streets with a cup of their favourite beverage.

Other changes include the creation of three entertainment zones, replacing the once central stage at the Flagpole, while the Island's singers and musicians are encouraged to entertain the crowds at designated busker spots.

The facelift marks a major turnaround for Harbour Nights, which was in danger of being scrapped last year.

Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joanne MacPhee said that, following consultation with its members, the Chamber realised that the 20-year-old event needed “a major overhaul” after becoming “worn and shabby”.

“We asked ourselves if it had run its course and the response we got back was 'yes, in its current format',” Mrs MacPhee said.

“But given its rich history and importance to the summer season, it was agreed that it was more than worth saving. We all agreed we needed to build on what makes the event original and 'authentically Bermudian'.

“We had allowed vendors to stray from the 'Made in or made for Bermuda' mandate and in doing so lowered the overall tone and quality of the event.”

Mrs MacPhee said she was confident the changes will breathe new life into the event, giving it more of a carnival atmosphere. But she stressed the fair would still remain a family-friendly occasion.

Should a liquor licence be granted, sales of alcohol will be heavily regulated, with trained staff from already-established bars and restaurants manning up to five stalls dotted throughout the pedestrianised zone.

Drinkers will have to produce identification to obtain a wristband allowing them to buy alcohol.

“The new route alone will open up the entire City Centre and bring life and much needed vitality to Hamilton. The return to an authentic Bermudian vibe will enhance the visitor experience,” Mrs MacPhee said.

“But it's still going to be very much a family event — we don't want it becoming like Bourbon Street,” she added, referring to the notorious avenue in New Orleans favoured by rowdy revellers who party through the night.

Mrs MacPhee, who is also a member of the Tourism Board, said that she had consulted with retailers located in the newly expanded Harbour Nights footprint and was thrilled with their renewed enthusiasm for the event.

“Basically we now have 90 percent buy-in from retailers in the city centre — pretty much the whole city centre will be open,” she said, adding that participating stores will be displaying 'Open For Harbour Nights' stickers in their windows.

“Most of our retailers had a horrible fourth quarter in 2012 due in great part to Government's decision to call an election in December.

“They, along with our restaurants, need a boost to kick the season into high gear so they can recoup some of their losses. We certainly hope that Harbour Nights plays its part to stimulate economic activity.

“Anything which enhances the visitor experience is good for Bermuda, we are in the business of tourism and it is vital that we remember and act on that premise. Today's great experience is tomorrow's return visitor.”

Mrs MacPhee said organisers decided to change entertainment arrangements because the previous format — where musical performances on a large single stage at the Flagpole were amplified across the length of Front Street — was too “in your face”.

She said that three smaller stages spread out across the venue would allow for a wider range of musical entertainment.

And the Chamber chief urged locals to support the occasion.

“The event's slogan is 'Where Bermudians and visitors connect' and this speaks again to the issue of authenticity,” Mrs MacPhee said.

“Visitors come to Bermuda looking for that special something only we can share, so it is absolutely imperative that locals, as well as our visitors embrace and enjoy Harbour Nights.”

Last night Tourism Board Chairman David Dodwell applauded the development, saying it would encourage hotel guests and cruise visitors to spend a night on the town and help revive Hamilton's appeal as a venue to spend an evening.

“It's a brilliant idea,” Mr Dodwell said.

“I think the Chamber should be applauded because it has taken advice from two entities — its customers, and those who wanted to participate.

“They've then looked at how they can do things differently and to see how they could raise the bar.”

Mr Dodwell said the event could be a “stepping stone” to making Hamilton a magnate for visitors looking to be entertained in the evenings.

“At the moment we're talking about one night a week, but I think, in conjunction with the new waterfront, what we should be aiming for is making Hamilton an anchor that can attract visitors seven nights a week, and so anything we do to help that is a step in the right direction.”

Starting from next week, Harbour Nights will run from 7pm to 10pm every Wednesday.

Photo by Mark Tatem Standing room only: People crowd around the Flagpole on Front Street to watch performers at the last Harbour Night of 2009.
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, Joanne MacPhee (Photo by Akil Simmons)

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Published April 26, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated April 25, 2013 at 11:35 pm)

Retailers back 'bigger and better' Harbour Nights

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