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Caribbean Marketplace in Miami’s Little Haiti reopens

Caribbean Marketplace entrance.
Caribbean Marketplace entrance.
© 2014 George Leposky

The Caribbean Marketplace in Miami’s Little Haiti community reopened on July 18, 2014, after an 18-year hiatus. Prime Minister Laurent Salvador Lamothe of Haiti and Miami Mayor Tomás P. Regalado spoke at the festive opening ceremony.

Located at 5925 NE 2nd Ave., the Caribbean Marketplace is next door to the Little Haiti Cultural Center, 212-260 NE 59th Ter. The marketplace operating hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

Sandy Dorsainvil, director of the marketplace and managing director of the cultural center, says the marketplace vendors and clientele aren’t exclusively Haitian. Merchants from all Caribbean nations and customers from everywhere are welcome. Items on sale include tropical fruits and vegetables, handmade baskets, and arts and crafts items from Haiti and other Caribbean nations.

Dorsainville says the marketplace will energize the Little Haiti neighborhood and help to extend the city’s growing arts and culture landscape northward from Wynwood and the Design District, to the south of Little Haiti.

Problems arose

Originally opened in 1989, the Caribbean Marketplace won a Florida Architecture Award and an American Institute of Architects national honor award the following year. Its architect, Charles Harrison Pawley, was born in Haiti to American parents and lived there as a child. He modeled the 9,500-square-foot Miami structure after the Marché Ferrier (Iron Market) in the commercial district of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

By 1996, the building had to be closed due to physical and financial problems. Constructed originally as an open-air market, air circulation was insufficient to prevent mold growth and structural decay. Concurrently, the surrounding neighborhood was in decline, merchants were struggling, and funding wasn’t available from other sources to sustain the operation.

The City of Miami took over ownership of the Caribbean Marketplace and announced plans to tear it down in 2005, prompting the organization of a preservation group initially led by architect Pawley and Haitian musician Pepe Bayard. Pawley died in 2006 and Bayard in 2008.

The $900,000 project to restore and rehabilitate the marketplace includes air conditioning, new lighting and sound systems, vendor kiosks, four 70-inch flat-screen TVs, and free Wi-Fi. The building also includes a refreshment and concessions area.

Lamothe’s Remarks

In his remarks and the opening ceremony, Prime Minister Lamothe emphasized that Haiti is now nearing recovery from its devastating January 2010 earthquake. He said 95 percent of the million-plus people who were living in tents in the months immediately following the quake now have permanent housing, and the security situation also is much improved. “Haiti today is the safest nation in the Caribbean,” he declared.

Lamothe lived in Miami while earning a bachelor's degree in political science at Barry University and a master’s degree in business management from Saint Thomas University. He noted the “85 percent brain drain” that has dispersed most educated Haitians to Miami, New York, and elsewhere. He appealed to “the diaspora” to remember its roots, and described his government’s efforts to maintain contact with and solicit input from people who still consider themselves Haitian even though they may live outside the country.

Local speaker

The final speaker was Jean “Mapou" Denis, the owner of Libreri Mapou Book Store and Translation Service, one of two original stores in the Caribbean Marketplace. He was able to stay open because he has a separate entrance to the outside, as does an ice cream shop. My wife, Rosalie Leposky, Miami Food and Drink Examiner, likes to visit Mapou's store to collect the newest Haitian cookbooks.

Mapou traced the history of the Caribbean Marketplace as only someone can who has lived it. The audience, largely from the neighborhood, agreed with his comments.

If you want to learn more, befriend Mapou on Facebook or visit his store at 5919 NE Second Ave. He will be happy to talk about his store, the building, and the neighborhood, and to sell you books you won't find any other place.

Music

Providing music for the festivities was a band called Moonchild: Gene Paul Gayol, keyboard; Diogo Brown, guitar; Melissa Moonchild, vocal; and Jennifer JJ, drums.

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