Jamaica’s ultimate trade bazaar – Falmouth’s Bend Down Market
IT WAS a recent Wednesday morning just outside Falmouth and everything felt like Christmas Eve. The punishing Trelawny sun did not slow down the frantic shopping that was taking place across thousands of square feet of space in the new Falmouth market, spilling over on adjacent properties and in the nearby street.
Sidewalks were jam-packed, too. The vendors were from all across Jamaica. They had poured into the market by trucks, buses, vans, cars, handcarts and makeshift bicycles, and some had set up their stalls from as early as 5 a.m. This is the scene at the Falmouth Bend Down Market, and some describe the buzz here as the biggest bazaar in the English-speaking Caribbean.
“Buy Jamaican and build Jamaica,” Joseph Gray, a young man from Waterford in St Catherine screamed as he pushed his decorated handcart through an excited crowd of buyers and sellers. This was Gray’s first visit to the Falmouth Bend Down Wednesday Market. He is a self-taught craftsman with a special gift for making handbags, purses, schoolbags, headbands, chokers, belts and bracelets.
“I came here today because I’ve been hearing so much about the money that can be made at this market, so I decided to take a trip across the island to do business here,” he told The Gleaner. “From the look of things, I will be back next week, too,” he chuckled, flashing a big smile. He is confident that business will be good, as his attractive bags and purses are moderately priced at $500.
Joseph is one of hundreds of vendors who come here every Wednesday to sell everything, from a pin to pit bull puppies. The number of vendors is expected to jump way past a thousand as Christmas approaches. The market is a very organised space, with security officers and ample parking next door. It has been in operation for over four decades, though only recently at this new venue as it was previously located at Water Square in the town square. Herbs, spices, fresh fruits and vegetables are here in abundance, including exotic treasures like custard apples, naseberries, sweetsops and out-of-season Julie mangoes. The fruit vendors will peel and bag your pineapples and sugar cane for you on spot with a howdy and a welcoming smile, and most items at this rural market are dirt cheap, compared to Kingston and Montego Bay. Aphrodisiacs, sexual enhancers and roots drinks are aplenty. And yes, the legendary Trelawny yam is here in abundance too, reputed to make athletes run faster.
A further walk for a few minutes and a colourful world unfolds. Red, green and gold T-shirts, caps, Rasta belts, knitted tams, sandals, handmade game boards, key rings, assorted souvenirs and fragrances are weighing down the stalls. Some of the items for sale are placed on the ground, which is how the market got its ‘Bend Down’ name, as shoppers had to stoop to examine the merchandise. A vendor created a small commotion when he leaped in the air and released a collection of multicoloured panties, raining down like Christmas confetti. “Ladies, only $100. Any size, any shape, any colour,” he crowed loudly. A Brooklyn-based Jamaican young woman scrutinised the merchandise and nodded approvingly as she replied, “No sah, this will drive Victoria and her secrets out of business.” There were immediate ripples of laughter, and it was clear this exciting shopping experience is also a comedy show.
The variety of products here is astonishing and goes way beyond fruits, vegetables, ground provisions and sundries. To one side of the market is an unending sea of clothing and footwear, haberdashery, car accessories, houseware and kitchenware. A deejay with a makeshift sound system and a microphone is ‘splashing lyrics’ in the morning sun, urging shoppers to buy. It works. A few shoppers are eyeing a handcart loaded to the brim with glistening Dutch pots of every size and description. They range in price from $1,000 to $3,000, but many of the vendors are prepared to haggle. Without any consideration on how I could possibly take the 15-inch pot back to New York, I quickly bought a huge one for only $2,000.
After walking some more, I engage in conversation with a friendly Jamaican brown lady with a slight British accent. She is selling Rottweiler and pit bull vaccinated and dewormed puppies. She travelled from Ocho Rios with the charming canines. They looked healthy and happy. She hates to part with them, but this is her business and she hopes they find a comfortable home. “These beautiful pups are nine weeks old. We feed them on the best Purina and full cream cow’s milk,” she revealed. “We’re asking for J$35,000 each.”
‘Feed The World’
Hungry and feeling for a bite? Further down the shopping line, a gentleman from Clark’s Town in the parish, who is called ‘Feed The World’, is peddling peanut porridge and conch soup. He only comes out on Wednesdays, and he’s been selling at the market for many years. His peanut porridge is already sold out by 9 a.m., but he has a thick, rich pot of conch soup - $175 for the small size and $300 for the large. The mouthwatering aroma of the soup is pretty hard to miss. I ask what’s in the soup. “Conch, pumpkin, cocoa, dasheen, Irish potatoes, carrots, okra, cornmeal dumplings, and seasonings,” he announced proudly. I order one, it’s so good, I go back for a second cup.
One can’t help noticing that a number of tourists are now taking interest in the wildly exciting shopping experience that is the ever-growing Falmouth Bend Down Market. Comments and guidance on the market for travellers are now appearing on TripAdvisor, one of the most popular information platforms for vacationers. Well over a thousand new hotel rooms have opened up recently in the parish of Trelawny, including Excellence, Ocean Coral Spring and Ocean Eden Bay. And with Falmouth on the cruise itinerary, waves of tourists and curious local bargain hunters will be in search of new adventures. So the expectation is that eventually, more and more non-traditional shoppers will want to share in the authenticity and the excitement of the Falmouth Bend Down Market.
“Last Christmas we took a hit at the Bend Down Market due to corona, but we are hoping for a bumper season this year,” an optimistic vendor from Green Island in Hanover told The Gleaner.