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Marketplace Gives Long-Neglected Little Haiti a Boost

April 29, 1990

MIAMI (AP) _ The opening of the colorful, tin-roofed Caribbean Marketplace this month in Little Haiti was good news for an ethnic group more often linked to crisis and turmoil in the headlines.

Community leaders and residents hope the 10,000-foot structure with gingerbread woodwork and a soaring atrium will be a centerpiece of the area and spark a neighborhood economic revival.

Although not a large project physically, ″psychologically it’s a huge one,″ said Carl Craig, vice chairman of the Haitian Task Force, a not-for- profit community agency and developer of the $1.2 million center.

″This is one step for us. Out of that marketplace, a lot of other things will start happening. ... This is the turning point.″

Its effect is already noticeable in this impoverished, long-neglected area of northern Miami.

Since the marketplace broke ground a year ago, plans have been announced for several other projects nearby.

″We feel in the long run, as these projects are developed and continued ... we’ll enhance how the community looks as well as create jobs and develop marketable skills,″ said Henri-Robert Lamothe, task force executive director.

Craig hopes the marketplace will finally bring the Haitain community some publicity that doesn’t focus on its problems.

Recent stories have focused on alleged abuse at the Immigration and Naturalization Service detention camp south of Miami that houses mostly Haitian immigrants; on a U.S. Food and Drug Administration ban, now under review, on Haitian immigrants giving blood as a precaution against spreading AIDS; on continuing instability in the Haitian government; and on the interdiction of rickety vessels carrying desperate refugees to Florida shores.

The marketplace, modeled after the Iron Market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is painted in bold yellow with accents in a rainbow of colors.

Six years in the developing, it houses vendors selling island-oriented goods from clothes to books to tropical-flavored ice cream.

Nearly all of the 23 stalls, which rent for $300 to $675 a month, are taken, most by first-time business owners helped with task force loans and technical assistance.

Guy Gelin, a Haitian immigrant who moved to South Florida from New York in 1981, set up his Sunshine Arts & Crafts store at the marketplace entrance. He specializes in selling Haitian art here, while his wife runs an art and flower store in Port-au-Prince.

″I don’t expect a big start,″ Gelin said on a recent slow weekday afternoon. ″I think it will take at least six months to one year for business to be booming. But I feel very good about prospects for the Caribbean Marketplace.″

Christiane Joseph, who arrived from Haiti 10 years ago, sells fabric from rolls tucked into a back corner of the breezy marketplace. She says she’s happy to be in full-time sales, away from the sporadic world of flea-markets.

The hopes aren’t restricted to Haitians. The Okonma family, who emigrated from Africa via Chicago, has opened the Liberty Fruits & Vegetables store.

″Without them (the task force), you can do it, but it would have taken more time and frustration,″ said Tony Okonma.

Most of the business is expected to come from Little Haiti’s residents. But the task force also hopes to attract tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Lamothe says there are ″few people who can understand what Haitians are all about and many Haitians who do not venture outside this enclave,″ so the marketplace could help foster better ethnic relations all around.

The marketplace, built with funds from numerous sources, including the city, the state and the Ford Foundation, has won several design awards.

But one local resident hailed it on opening day, April 7, as something more.

″This place means Haitian pride,″ the man, who gave his name only as Boulou, told The Miami Herald. ″When we come to this country we have to fight for it, but now it’s standing right here in front of us.″

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