Shopping in Barbados
Given the size of the island, I thought my choices of shopping would be more limited than reality has proven. There are plenty of options to buy food, depending on what kind of purchase you’re making and how many places you care to visit in order to check all the food items off your list.
With no question, Massy's is the overall most popular store in Barbados. It is your one stop shop for all your needs; Massy’s has it all. Anything you’d expect from a grocery store, they have it. They have fruit, produce, frozen food, a pharmacy, bug spray and citronella items, basic hardware, all your cleaning products and a small selection of home goods. Some of the items from Massy’s are in line with other prices around the island, but much is not. We don’t buy meat or many frozen goods (although their frozen pancakes weren’t outlandish), but Massy’s is the most convenient for basic things like bagels, bread, cheese, yogurt, and soda/sparkling water (PS- Waitrose has the best Grapefruit Sparkling Water, if you’re into that sort of thing, which I assume people are because I’ve only found it there twice! PPS- it is delicious with white Mount Gay Rum, just sayin'). There’s a Massy’s just past the Gap heading north from Dover, there’s one in Oistins, as well the biggest we've seen at SkyMall (Lopez was thrilled to find hard shell tacos).
There are other grocery stores that I didn’t learn of until further into our time here. The one recommended by most locals is Popular Discount. I was told Popular was much cheaper than Massy’s so obviously we were ready to try it out. Then, practically in the same breath, we were concurrently warned to avoid the store at all costs because it is a madhouse. The first time we went, our driver dropped us off and waited in the car with Aiden and Lopez, I walked in a light shone down on me and the heavens sang as I reveled in the affordability of the items in front of me. I went crazy, throwing things into my cart left and right, only concerned that I couldn’t spend more time shopping, trying to consider the car full of people waiting for me. The line was pretty quick and I didn’t equate that with madhouse, scoffing at the warning.
Then, I went a second time, on the 27th of October. It was a complete madhouse. Turning the corner was like driving drunk, not sure what you’ll run into, and I waited in line for over 30 minutes! Over 30 minutes. I quickly learned that the way to shop there is to send one person to the line with a few things, and then person two does the rest of your shopping, so by the time person two is done, person one has neared the front of the line.
I spoke with Melanie, a local whose family owns and rents a lovely three bedroom house, and she warned me to never go the last week of the month. She informed me that many island residents work for the government and they get paid monthly, which happens around the 25th of the month. Since Popular is in fact quite popular, it’s best to avoid shopping there for a good 7-10 days after the 25th. I concurred, wholeheartedly, and will continue my relationship with Popular only during off times (think 9 am or 2 pm, midweek), middle of the month or so. Damn, Popular!
We Americans live for places like Costco. Yes, as a mom of five plus a dog, I love bulk shopping. Spending several hundred dollars at a time so for at least one week a month, my pantry is full, my kids are satisfied and my supply of Diet Coke seemingly endless. Enter PriceSmart. I had posted on Barbados Expats asking which is better, PriceSmart or Cost U Less; both are akin to Costco and had been recommended to me for our duration here.
I was told that I could get a one-day pass at PriceSmart before purchasing a membership ($80 Bajan/year) but that was incorrect. I was so happy when I walked in, it didn’t matter and we bought the membership on the spot. I feel like our cart is always higher than everyone else’s but with usually not having a car to easily get there, we need to stock up and again, six people. PriceSmart has samples back, BTW! Penny and Cal just about died when they got a banana, they were so happy. COVID brought its own damper to my kids inner Costco spirit when the samples were removed, as my bi-weekly trip was always accompanied by sample-lovin' babies. It’s a hike from Dover and the first time we went, we paid a driver and it was more than I’d wanted to spend going to the grocery store, so now we make sure to get there when we rent a car (we have rented one twice when we had plans for places around the island).
For fresh fruits and vegetables, we hit Cheapside Market in Bridgetown. Stands fill the market with fresh pumpkin, bananas, cantaloupe, watermelon, carrots, cucumbers, you name it. With less regulations than in the States, there's no shortage of food stands, so finding reasonable (and negotiable) items is no challenge.
There are other markets, like Brighton Farmer's Market, which our friends hit every Saturday for their weekly supply of fruits and vegetables. (PS - get there early, she said 9 am might be too late for a spot. The morning is spent visiting the stands for a variety of homemade treats, baked goods and a great atmosphere). There is the market in Hastings as well as the Fish Market for fresh fish in Oistins, open 7 days a week with a lovely selection of fish, fruit and vegetables. Tip from a local - lag behind other locals to determine fair pricing before you accept the first cost offered. Barbados is a country of negotiation and while supporting the economy is important, don't let yourself get taken advantage of, especially if you'll be here a long time like us.
Finally, my take on non-food shopping in Barbados (think everyday items, home goods, clothes). There are malls, no doubt, that will have everything you need. I’ve noticed a higher than at home amount of kids clothing stores and toy stores, which is where we bought a gift for our friend Ellie, who turned seven a few weeks back.
Outside of malls, we have discovered the shops in Bridgetown for many of our needs. Most interesting to me is the contrast from here and home; where in the States you find the best deals on basic goods at chain shops, ala Walmart, Target, here in Barbados, the chain stores are where the expensive items live and downtown, in the specialty shops, is where you’ll find the deals. I’m talking bath mats, towels, kitchen supplies, every day goods that you’d need to outfit your only somewhat furnished house. I’m not promising a lifetime warranty, but for us, they’re great because we don't need top notch products to last forever. I highly recommend anyone here spend time in Bridgetown, where you can enjoy a day of wandering through shops, finding quality deals, smelling great food, buying cheap fruits and vegetables and generally enjoying the sights and sounds of Barbados capital city.