Back to Swan Street

ABOUTTOWNACROSS-1When most people think about Bridgetown, their first thoughts are about the glamorous store fronts on Broad Street.  High-end international jewelry franchises and local stores that have stood the test of time like Cave Shepherd and DaCostas Mall.

Some would even argue that this bustling artery running through the centre of our City (and now part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is the best place for quality merchandise, the latest in fashion trends and an international selection of jewelry with price points comparable to those found in international duty free lounges in the United States and Europe.

But on my last trip About Town, I wanted to get a feel for the street that runs parallel to Broad Street with a vibe and a culture all its own: Swan Street, which is currently pedestrianized, with one set of traffic lights to regulate the flow of traffic from Prince William Henry Street onto Lucas Street.

The noisy haggling, familiar teasing of store owners who’ve grown to know each other and even the architecture (if you look beyond the garishly coloured signs) haven’t changed that much from the Swan Street of the early 20th century where, instead of large shopping baskets, there were donkeys to carry the shopping and ladies in town wore far more flamboyant hats and skirts to match the times.

It gives me a warm feeling of being surrounded by a history that, by and large, has not changed but I still wanted to know, from those who ply their trade there and shop there: why Swan Street?  Steven Clarke is the owner and proprietor of Blanks and Accessories and looked rather relaxed as I approached him for an interview amidst the hollering of snow cone vendors and gossiping of patrons making their way to one end of the street (The Palmetto Mall & Market) or the other (Abeds).

Steven explained why as a store owner he chose Swan Street and why he believes his clientele prefers his location.

“Swan Street has a really good flow of people . . . it also has a variety of stores . . . you have from clothes to stuff you can put in your house like furniture, stuff for the kitchen, make-up, it [has] a big variety for hair . . .,” explained the mild mannered proprietor.

Swan Street is now fully pedestrian friendly thanks to a project in 1997, which progressed until 2000 when the final stones were being installed. Inset, Katrina Chats with Abed’s Store Manager Hassan Toueini about how the company has grown into a Barbadian shopping institution. 
Swan Street is now fully pedestrian friendly thanks to a project in 1997, which progressed until 2000 when the final stones were being installed. Inset, Katrina Chats with Abed’s Store Manager Hassan Toueini about how the company has grown into a Barbadian shopping institution.

Steven believes it’s a down to earth type of person who prefers the bustle of Swan Street to those who do not venture beyond Broad Street.  And for its great flow of people, I asked, “how’s business?” Steven modestly answered: “Business is up and down [but] the doors still open and I’m thankful for that.”  And with that, he went back to surveying his little spot, flanked by racks of clothing on one side at bargain basement prices to a dizzying array of sunglasses and hair accessories on the other.

Even my make-up artist found a few bits she could add to her ‘magic box of loveliness’.  Then the scent of caramel popcorn invaded my nostrils and all my childhood memories of going to town being a treat came flooding back.

As I followed my nose to the source of the gastronomic pleasure, I couldn’t help but notice how the old and the new operated quite comfortably side by side: Dollarwi$e; a stall purporting to “jailbreak” any phone you had; New Fashions; Prophet’s Fruit and Variety Limited and a name that is familiar across many a generation: S.Y. Adams & Sons.

Everyone’s on a hustle in Swan Street and I barely caught the proprietor of Faith Boutique before he wrapped up his part of the family run business for the afternoon.  Leroy The Warrior Brathwaite echoed the sentiments of Steven Clarke of Blanks and Accessories.

“Swan Street is the most popular street in Barbados. This is where you get the most traffic so you need lots of traffic when you’re doing business,” he said. Not necessarily high volume, he admitted, however.  “But everything has a season [e.g.] reggae concerts and the like and in everything we give thanks,” said the slim built owner who runs the small complex with his sister Marcelle.

Then it hit me.  There’s no way I could do a feature on Swan Street without a visit to Abed’s.  Occupying its original store space, Abed’s fabric and clothing store was among the first to open its doors as Bridgetown developed over the years and is also a family legacy.  So it was with great pride that store manager Hassan Toueini – cousin of Abed’s stalwart Edward Abed – gave me a short history lesson of the store he swears Barbadians just love.

“In 1964, Abed’s was partnered with Moses where it occupied store spaces 30, 31 & 32.”  That partnership has ended and over the years the store that boasts of being “At the Cutting Edge of Fashion” expanded and took over more of that side of Swan Street. “And then in 1997, we took over the last store here [when the renovations began.]” said the affable Toueini, who has been in the business for the past 11 years.

Well I never did get my caramel popcorn, but the bargains, bright colours and quirky personalities in Swan Street are making me rethink my choices of shopping locations.  I’ll see you next week when I go Across Town & About Country…who knows, we may meet up in Swan Street! Bye for now.

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