Sunday, October 18, 2020

West Side Bazaar navigates through COVID-19

West Side Bazaar, 25 Grant St.
By Randy Sargent

Face masks and social distancing are just some of the changes happening in the  community as COVID-19 blazes its path of economic uncertainty and reorganizes the community. 

 One of the many effects of the pandemic has been the sudden halt of business for some refugee families who have had a unique opportunity to share their culture with the West Side.  

 In 2011, the West Side Bazaar opened its doors at 25 Grant St. Over the years, the West Side Bazaar has become a hot spot for those who want to indulge their taste buds into multicultural cuisines and purchase traditional clothes and trinkets from countries such as Rwanda, South Sudan, Peru, and Indonesia. 

 It has provided an opportunity for immigrant families to establish their businesses while sharing their cultural cuisines and traditions. This opportunity gave refugee families a shot of hope and a much-needed way to generate income, establish a living, and learn the business skills needed, in hopes to one day move from the Bazaar to a possible storefront. 

    Esperance Rwigamba is the relationship manager at the Westminster Economic Development Initiative, or WEDI, which manages the West Side Bazaar. She has seen first-hand the positive impact the West Side Bazaar has had not only on the community but on the families, who are vendors of the bazaar.

“The goal for many of the store owners and food vendors is to own their own storefronts around the city, we are just here to guide them on their journey and help them become acclimated to the business world and give them the tools to succeed in their new country,” Rwigamba said.

            The pandemic, coupled with limited space, has had a huge impact on the businesses inside the bazaar, causing a temporary shutdown of all the stores within the bazaar while keeping its food services to take- out only.

            In an effort to help soften the financial blow to store owners, WEDI is busy helping the out-of-work vendors to navigate through three possible types of compensation to help support the families who have lost their income due to coronavirus shut down. The three types of possible compensation are Paycheck Protected Programs (PPP), Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), and The Neighbor Fund, which provide partial grants and partial loans to qualifying applicants.

            Vendors such as Julienne Nyiranjishi, a native of Rwanda, remain optimistic. She said that WEDI and the community have been helpful and have done an excellent job keeping them informed of the possible resources available as well as the plans they have to re-open when possible.

One of those plans is the relocation to a new facility at 1432 Niagara St. in the spring 2021.  Vendors from Grant Street are guaranteed a spot in the new location, which is large enough for stores to re-open, even if the pandemic remains.

            The silver lining of the story is that the remaining food vendors have learned to adapt by utilizing technology they have not used before, which allows them to learn how to incorporate their businesses with food delivery services like Door Dash and Uber Eats. This new approach has allowed the vendors to reach customers they might not have had if it wasn’t for the pandemic, forcing them to navigate and adjust through the coronavirus.

            Despite the challenges and setbacks, the vendors of the West Side Bazaar remain hopeful and optimistic of a brighter future and look forward to the opportunity to share their culture with a community that has embraced them and have enjoyed the benefits of the diversity found on  West Side.