Vendors and shoppers back new look Harbour Nights
It was a make or break launch for Harbour Nights 2013 last night, which experienced a few hitches with its ambitious rebranding.
A hoped-for cruise ship at Dockyard didn't arrive in time, Queen Street wasn't quite pedestrianised, and organisers nervously eyed the gloomy skies.
But vendors and shoppers alike were more than happy to give a revamped Harbour Nights the benefit of the doubt.
“It's a challenge with the new route, and getting people settled with the new look,” conceded Chamber of Commerce executive director Joanne MacPhee, as she encouraged people to wander off the beaten track from Front Street onto Queen and Reid Streets.
“We did think after last year that Harbour Nights had run its course. We decided to call it quits. And the response from the Department of Tourism and the vendors was an absolute 'no'. But it had to be reworked.”
The liquor licence could be in place by next week, she said.
“The Licensing Board has some concerns about the way it will be policed, which are understandable.”
The City of Hamilton had promised electricity at certain points to Reid Street vendors, Ms MacPhee told
The Royal Gazette — which Belco told organisers it wasn't able to provide just yet.
“We're working on it,” she said.
The lack of power was “the only drawback” for Bermuda Cedar vendor Roderick Raynor, now in his third year at the shopping event, who said he'd need to use a generator to keep his Reid Street stall lit.
“It's cosy here, no heavy breeze — it could be very nice,” he said, surveying his cedar cricket bats, gombey axes and clocks. “I just need more light.”
Nearby salesman Larry Douglas brought his own light to the Zaa Zii Wear stall of crocheted bracelets, earrings and swimsuits.
Asked for his verdict on the night, he said: “I've yet to decide. We'll have to see — this move could be a blessing in disguise, so we're going to play it by ear and stay positive.”
Atlantic Jewellery proprietor Jacquie Lohan called it “ideal” to have Washington Mall opened up. After a three-year break from Harbour Nights, this year's increased retail involvement allowed her to sell on the street a short distance from her new mall outlet.
Reflecting the Chamber of Commerce's determination to boost the event, businesses threw their support behind the night.
“Retailers are a lot more involved than normal, which I like,” said Bookmart's Zumané Lottimore, pointing out that Brown and Co elected to open the whole store for the first time this year.
Hamilton Deputy Mayor Donal Smith commended the expanded route.
“It's necessary that we as the City Council embrace all the great things the Chamber has lined up for this. I feel good about the season now that we've got Queen and Reid Streets open. We've just got to drive traffic back that way. Once the cruise ships come in, it's going to be awesome.”
Harbour Nights, he said, had grown too “same old, same old”.
The night kicked off with the booming canon of
The Spirit of Bermuda, taking part this year for the first time. The vessel will be a fixture all through Harbour Nights, bringing passengers from 5pm out of Dockyard for cruises.
The Somerset Brigade Band played at Queen Elizabeth Park at 7pm as speakers addressed the crowd from the Birdcage.
Performer Dennis Moniz said: “Money's not like it used to be, so I'm pleased to see they have done so much to keep this going. Every island I've gone to has some sort of function like this, so we've got to make ours work.”
The crowd was thin, and largely confined to Front Street, but Place's Gombeys and the 8pm arrival of the Bermuda Regiment Band drew a few more shoppers out to the expanded route.
Reflecting the 'colours' theme of Heritage Month, brightly-dressed Town Crier Ed Christopher called out to passing visitors: “Have you hugged a Bermudian today?”
But without the day-late cruise ship, it was an almost entirely local crowd.
“I'm already off on the good foot — the food smells wonderful and my daughter's getting her face painted,” said Llewellyn Edwards, as six-year-old Yasmin got made up.
Vendor Bernice Burt said the Chamber of Commerce had kept participants very well informed.
“They tell us everything we need up front,” she said. “The public bathrooms aren't working, which would have been nice — they've got some alternative set up — but the Chamber has been working hard, with e-mails and meetings. We knew exactly what was going on.”
Bermuda Sloop Foundation CEO Denise Riviere said the organisation was grateful to be involved — all proceeds raised will be toward saving the charity's cash-strapped youth programme.
And Chamber of Commerce head Ronnie Viera, strolling with his wife Pat, said he was impressed with the quality of this year's vendors.
“They've vetted them well,” he said. “What we've got to do is see how the flow goes. We've got to keep reminding people to go around the corner.”
The commitment to keeping Harbour Nights going “every single Wednesday, rain or shine” was key, he said.
“Last year people never seemed to be sure if it was happening. The Chamber kept getting calls checking if it was on.”
However, for Café 4 proprietor Andreas Detzer, the attempt to have an open-air bistro on Queen Street didn't quite work out: parked cars and departing vehicles didn't make the street look open to pedestrians, and his tables and chairs eventually came inside.
“The first one always brings some challenges,” he said. “The street is supposed to be closed, and it doesn't look it. The idea was to set up the cafe so people could look up from Front Street and see us. That hasn't happened today. But we are hopeful for next week.”