Makeover for Charles Gordon Market
Adrian Frater, News Editor
Western Bureau:As recent as four years ago, the Charles Gordon Market in Montego Bay was a haven for wanton disorder - petty thieves roaming with impunity, unsightly mounds of garbage, vendors blocking the flow of traffic, and stray animals mixing and mingling with shoppers.
However, thanks to changes implemented by the St James Parish Council, starting in 2010, the market is reasonably well ordered and organised, making life much easier for shoppers to do business in relative safety and comfort, free from the vices of former times.
"It is now a joy to go shopping at the market. The place is clean, it smells good, and it looks like how a place where food is sold should be kept. In addition, the pickpockets, the petty thieves and disorderly cartmen are all thing of the past," said Sharon Williams, a Glendevon-based cosmetologist.
Shortly after the J$3.2 million police post was opened at the market in 2012, Montego Bay's mayor, Councillor Glendon Harris, said part of the council's long-term plan is to have the market functioning as an attraction for both locals and visitors. Earlier this week, he told Western Focus that hope had now been transformed into reality.
"We now have tour buses stopping at the market ... visitors from the hotels are going there and taking photographs," said Harris. "We also have students from various schools visiting the market on field trips ... . Things are looking good, and we are only 30 per cent of where we want to be."
In outlining some of the changes that have taken place at the market, the mayor said the shacks of former times have all been removed, the size of stalls have been reduced to one uniform height of four feet, the roadway has been cleared of vendors and, most importantly, security has been significantly improved by the police post and the commanding presence of enforcement officer, renowned hardcore policeman Winton 'Chawfine' Campbell.
"My job is to ensure that shoppers have a customer-friendly experience when they come to the market, so I basically ensure that vendors play by the rules outlined by the parish council," said Campbell. "There is no place here for unruly vendors, pickpockets and lawless cartmen anymore ... . Things have gotten better and it will stay that way as long as I am here."
After some amount of major upgrading work in 2012, which was done through joint funding from the European Union and local sources, Mayor Harris said part of the council's plan is to make the facility self-sustaining. While that has not happened yet, things are said to be progressing smoothly in that direction.
"Back in the 2010 to 2012 period, the monthly revenue generation was just above a $1 million, and with the changes we have made, which includes paid parking, we are now close to J$3 million," said Harris. "While we are still a work in progress, I believe we are well on the way to have the market being self-sustainable."
When the market was constructed in 1960, operations, for the most part was smooth. However, in the 1980s things began to fall apart as crime and general disorder became a way of life, making the facility a place that shoppers, especially women and the elderly, dreaded.
"I use to dread going to the market until recently," said Winsome Smith, who has been shopping at the market since the 1960s. "... when it was not the speeding handcarts, it was the pickpockets; when it was not the pickpockets, it was piles of garbage and the vendors in the streets ... . Now is the best I have seen the market in many years, and I am so thankful."
With the restoration of order at the market, more and more shoppers are now heaping praise of the parish council and expressing hope that the new situation will be sustained.
"I like the order that is there now. I don't mind paying the parking fee because I can see what I am paying for," said Jah Mike, a cook shop operator. "This is how a market should operate.
Having regain the order, which was missing for so many years, the mayor said he is determined not to allow the dark days of disorder and filth to return. As a consequence, he says strict management will remain the norm at the market.
"With tourists now visiting the market and shoppers happy with the way things are being manage, we are not going to allow things to get back to where it was in the past," said Harris. "We are looking forward to the day when we will have a viable market with increasing numbers of tourist visiting."
Interestingly, tourists visiting the Charles Gordon Market is nothing new, at least in the 1960s. According to Lloyd B. Smith, the member of Parliament for Central St James, when he was a youngster, he can recall Hollywood stars such as Elizabeth Taylor shopping at the market while vacationing in Jamaica.