flatbush haitian vendor
Marise Joseph, in her Thank You Notre Dame variety store, moved into the Flatbush Central market earlier this month, along with other vendors. (Photo by Leonardo March)

NEW YORK — Vendors in Flatbush have settled into a 16,000-square-foot retail space that will house a rebranded version of the former Flatbush Caton Market, in a new mixed-use development. While the market had a soft reopening the week of Feb. 7, the vendors, many of them Haitian, said they moved in the week prior from a temporary location on Clarendon Road.

“That’s a big difference because Clarendon is just a residential place, nobody walks outside,” said Marise Joseph, owner of the Thank You Notre Dame variety store inside the market. Joseph said she is “happy to come back” to the corner of Flatbush and Caton Avenues, although news of the reopening has not spread yet. 

Few customers were in the market on the afternoon of Feb. 8, but vendors – who offer food, clothing, body and beauty products and more for sale – are hopeful buyers will come. 

“For now, not everybody knows we opened,” Joseph said. “After winter those people will come in one by one.” 

Last spring, many vendors at the temporary Clarendon Road location complained about the lack of customers. The market had relocated there, just off Flatbush Avenue, in early 2018 to make room for the construction of a new building at the market’s original 800 Flatbush Ave. location 

Decades prior, the vendors had sold goods informally at that corner in an open-air market common across the city at the time. Former City Council Member Una Clarke then turned the location into a business incubator in 2000.  

Now, the market, renamed Flatbush Central, is on the ground floor of a new 14-story building with 255 apartment units. It also contains space for a Caribbean-themed food hall, bar and commercial kitchen, according to Urbane Development, which manages the market. A commercial kitchen and new facilities include a textile production space and a media lab complete with a studio for podcasting that people in the community may use.

Vendors in the Flatbush Central market have a discussion on Feb. 8. Parts of the new ground-floor facility like the Lakay Lounge, in the background, are not yet open to the public. (Credit: Leonardo March)

“The opening of the Flatbush Central Caribbean Marketplace is a victory that our entire community can rejoice in,” Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn said in the press release. She also lauded the new facilities, which are part of the Mangrove business accelerator.

“The new amenities, and Mangrove accelerator, give us hope for renewed prosperity and socio-economic growth in our area,” Bichotte-Hermelyn said in the release.

“Customers don’t know yet that we are here, but I have a lot of hope that customers will be coming with better weather,” said Rezile Alcius, who has sold beauty items, tea and spices for 27 years from her L’Eternel Mon Berger store. 

New market amenities, vendor training

When merchants finish moving in, Flatbush Central should contain 32 vendors, all of whom sold at the previous location on Clarendon, said Marijo Montrose, director of community affairs for Urbane Development. Before the move, each vendor also received a three-month business training curriculum in Creole or English, she said. 

“We tried not to eliminate, so much, the open market concept, but upgraded it,” Montrose said. “They’ve been in business for a while, we want them to adapt to the new realities of business. And since the neighborhood is changing, [to] offer upgraded products, less duplication of products.” 

Some of the amenities on the ground floor have yet to open. The food hall will provide sit-down dining and room for at least five vendors to sell Caribbean-inspired prepared foods. Urbane Development staff also confirmed that the bar area, called Lakay Lounge, is still waiting on a liquor license from the city. 

The commercial kitchen and new amenities are all part of the Mangrove business accelerator to support Black Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) entrepreneurs in the community, according to Urbane. Aspiring restaurateurs, for example, would be able to rent the kitchen space for $20 to $35 per hour, Urbane staff confirmed.

“It’s adding a new dimension to the space,” said Lisa Thompson, who manages the market. “For people to come to the food hall, they have to go through the marketplace, so just the placement of where it is, it’s just really complementary, you have that multiplier.”

This story is published in partnership with the URL Media Network and is produced with funding from the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund.

Sam is a reporter for The Haitian Times and a 2020 Report for America corps member. He has covered Haiti and its diaspora since 2018. His work has also appeared in USA Today, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Haiti Liberte. Sam can be reached at sam@haitiantimes.com or on Twitter @sambojarski.

Leonardo March is Brooklyn-based visual journalist from Puerto Rico and a Report for America corps member

Leonardo can be reached at Leonardo@haitiantimes.com