The Straw Market in downtown Nassau, The Bahamas, is famous. I found it to be too mass produced. If you want to support some of the independent artists and shop owners, then you will have to get in a car and go slightly (ten minutes) away from the main street. The reason for the spread out shops is that, apparently, the rent on the main strip is quite high. The list of independent shops is super short:
Bahama Hand Prints, Ernest Street: Super expensive fabric products from clothes to bags to curtains. The best part is watching the printing of the actual cloth in their attached workshop. The website is a little slow to load, but the shop is quite nice. (also, a secret tip is that they have a bathroom, if you need one).
Kim Smith The Place for Art, #20 Village Road: He offers classes, has a frame shop, and sells prints and original artwork.
Farmers Market, on the porch of the building in the same complex as the Kim Smith gallery. Basically, it’s two vendors. One who sells some vegetables, a baked good, and lobster tail tacos. The other person makes the tacos.
Bahama Art and Handicraft, East Shirley Street: Two sisters have this shop with lots of nick knacks. They don’t allow you to take photos of the things inside but you can find them on their Facebook page if you want to see what they have.
That’s it. But, if you stop at the parking lot where the fresh conch is being shucked , you can make a fun day outing of shopping local.
Sometimes you don’t want something new, but just want to fix your old favorite. I had a leather watch which had been worn so much that the strap had disintegrated and one of the pins was missing. The tricky part was that the watch strap was extremely narrow at under a centimeter (half inch) so most standard watch straps were too big. But, I figured in a place like Bogota, with its leather district and leather fame, this would be something I could easily get fixed.
I did a bit of research into watch shops (called “relojeria” since the word for watch is “reloj” and it is a piece of jewelry – hence many shops are also “joyeria”s which I like to see just because it has the word “joy” in it. I imagine that they are also shops of joy). The word for watch is the same as the word for clock so I discovered quite a few shops where I could get my grandfather clock repaired. If I needed that.
One Saturday morning (as many shops are closed on Sundays and many also close around 3 p.m. on Saturdays — makes me feel like I’m in Europe in the 80s), I set out with my addresses scribbled on a piece of paper. The address was “C.C. Granahorrar L-3 – 30” so once I looked up that it was a “El Castillo Centro Comercial” and was located on the corner of Carrera 7 and Calle 72 in a neighborhood or building called “Chile,” I figured that I had sufficient information to head out. After all, Carrera 7 (Called “Septima” — the main boulevard of Bogota) is easy to find.
I thought it would be fun to walk down 15 just to see what was there. When I turned on Calle 72, I was excited to see a “centro” with the word Chile in it that I went in and walked around level 3. Twice. I went into a bookstore/wine store where it was possible to browse books while imbibing in a glass of wine. Very civilized. I finally realized that I was not in the right mall. So I made use of the facilities (which included miniature toilets for children) and headed back out.
When I got to the corner of 7 and 72, I looked at all four corners. Each building had a name but not the one I was looking for. I saw a security guard and went over to ask him for help. One thing I appreciate about Bogota is that most of the taxi drivers and security guards are literate so they can read an address if I show it to them. This makes it easier for a foreigner like me. (I recall many years ago, getting into a taxi in Bangkok and confidently showing a hand written address to the driver. What ensued was a lot of gestures, smiles, and yelling above the roar of the traffic as we zigzagged through traffic. Finally I grasped that he couldn’t read. He pulled up next to another taxi and indicated that I should get into the other taxi. The other taxi driver could read.) Back in present day Bogota, the guard studied my piece of paper and scratched his head (okay, no, he didn’t but if life were a cartoon, he would have) while muttering the text out loud. Finally, he said in a Eureka sort of voice, “ah, Granahorrrrrar, si!” Then he told me that the building called the Big Savings (Granahorrar) is actually on 71. He then pointed down the street and told me to walk one block. I thanked him (I’ve been to trying to use “muy amable” more as I think this sounds so nice) and confidently set off. A few blocks later, I looked up and noticed that the sign said 74. The guard had pointed me in the wrong direction.
After a good laugh, I decided to give up (I’d been walking for hours) and try another day.
A few days later, I was wasting time before a dinner when I wandered around 72 again. On a small street off of 72, I saw a sign saying “relojeria.” The shop was about the size of a mattress. When I walked in, as always, I was greeted. (Without fail, you will get greeted when you walk into a store here. I have to remember to always say “Buenas + dias/tarde/noche” every time I enter a shop or call a person or see someone for the first time that day.) In the store, I peered into the glass display counters to see if there was anything as tiny as the watch I needed fixed. I asked if they fixed watches with leather straps (a “pulso”). I asked how much it would cost. She said 3,000 pesos (about $1.50). I got a business card and said that I’d be back. The address was Carrera 10, # 72-86.
On the following Saturday, I set out. Again. When I got to the shop, the gate was down. But, next to it, was a workshop, and it was open. I walked in setting off a deafening alarm. From behind a wooden screen, a man appeared and asked what I was looking for. I explained and showed him the watch. Just then, two women entered the shop carrying a cheap purple roller suitcase. They asked if it could be fixed. The craftsman sucked through his teeth, showed them where the suitcase was broken, and then said that he would try and fix it. He added that suitcases like that were only intended to hold 20 kilos. They left the suitcase with him and left the shop.
The man then ducked under a counter and began searching through his watch straps. One after another, they were too big. More boxes were ripped open. No match. Finally, like Goldilocks, he found one that was the right size. Did I prefer it in brown or black? I chose and he set to work. He took out a pin and cleaned out the metal parts of the watch. He commented that there was lots of water in the pinholes. I explained that the watch was 40 years old. He looked at me in amazement and said that the watch was the same age as him. In two minutes, he had fixed the watch. (During our exchange, he tried to help me out with words in English but I continued in Spanish even though I appreciated his effort). The whole transaction including the new genuine leather strap cost 18,000 pesos ($9). When I gave him too much money by mistake, he gave me some back and told me to be careful.
A few weeks later, I went back with a favorite pair of shoes where the glued inner soles had worn out. When I asked him if he could fix them, he sucked through his teeth again and said, “no.” But, then he grabbed the side of the sole and ripped it out. Then he pulled out a bag of soles and while tut-tutting (not audibly), tested out different ones after the size that I told him was clearly not the size of the shoe. The total for the new soles was $7.
I asked him if he could take two pairs of shoes and combine them. He said, “It can be done” in a tone of voice that actually said, “anything is possible but it might not turn out as you imagine.”
Fancy leather boots crafted solely for your feet… One of the many leather products one can spend one’s money on here in Bogota. Stella Bota is well known in the expat community. The boots cost about 125 U.S. dollars so it’s not an inexpensive experience (but it is hand crafted). The shop has many samples of leather in all colors. They have books from which you can select a design or you can bring in a photo. The sales people will measure your feet and it takes about a month for the boots to be ready. You will want to go in for fittings but, then again, anything you can imagine can be made into leather boots, and that is worth the wait.
Their address is 14, Diagonal 61C # 27A, Bogotá.
Stella can also repair leather shoes and boots for a feet.
While the shop is well known, the dog wearing a tutu will ensure that you won’t forget this shop experience.
One part of being a “good tourist” is visiting organizations and shops run as non-profits. In Luang Prabang, Laos, we saw paper being made by hand. Every stage of the process was visible and it seemed like the job was not the worst in the world… “what do you do all day?” “I make paper with flowers on it.”