Flatbush Central Caribbean Marketplace—formerly Flatbush Caton Market—is a local Caribbean business and market hub that has been part of the fabric of the Brooklyn community for more than 20 years. It survived a temporary move and the COVID-19 crisis, and has finally graduated to a new swanky building in Flatbush on the ground floor of Caton Flats, located at 2123 Caton Ave.

The space is meant to foster a sense of community for shoppers and vendors that caters to the Caribbean and African diaspora. The rebrand was inspired by former Councilmember Dr. Una S.T. Clarke, who first sponsored the market’s creation when Black immigrant vendors were often harassed while selling their wares on the street. “I am delighted to see my vision fulfilled, that vendors and entrepreneurs from our community now have a permanent home which gives both pride and dignity to those who struggled for existence and recognition,” said Dr. Clarke in a statement.

U.S. Rep Yvette Clarke, the former councilmember’s daughter, said she was truly proud of what her mother had founded in Brooklyn for the Afro-Caribbean community. “After decades of work, progress, and growth, the revitalization of FCM is finally complete and I am tremendously proud to witness the fruits of my mother’s love and labor be realized,” said Congresswoman Clarke in a statement.

Under former Mayor Bill de Blasio, the site was marked for development into “affordable housing” while it was a single story building and a parking lot back in 2013. But, Urbane, a Black-run community development venture, put their bid in to keep the space true to Dr. Clarke’s vision as it grew.

“It was a labor of love, man, labor of love,” said Urbane Principal and CEO James Johnson-Piett. Johnson-Piett said once Urbane was selected through city planning’s Request for Proposals and Uniform Land Use Review Procedure processes, they took over the property and marketplace in 2017. Vendors were temporarily moved to a location on Flatbush and Clarendon Road for about four years while the main site was finished. 

Not only was it difficult to find a temporary space to hold all the vendors and still get good foot traffic in the neighborhood, there was no way they could’ve predicted the onslaught of the COVID-19 crisis in 2020. Many of the vendors are “elder-preneurs,” averaging about 60 to 65 years in age. They started out with 38 vendors and went down to 28. At least two vendors passed away and many others got sick due to COVID, said Johnson-Piett. 

“It’s been a challenge but the vendors have really rose to the occasion. They’ve been through a lot and persevered through a lot,” said Johnson-Piett. “Recognizing it was another storm to weather because these folks came from trauma, they came from poverty. And their existence and business has had that sorta as a backdrop, so this was just another thing.”

Urbane, along with New York City Economic Development Corporation, Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Housing Development Corporation, and BRP Companies, finally finished the market and the rest of the 14-story, mixed-use building in 2021. Johnson-Piett said proudly that they had an “all Black everything team,” or Black architects, Black developers, and Black contractors, designing specifically to the Black diaspora aesthetic. The upgraded facilities have a commercial kitchen, bar, lounge, vendor spaces, and a business development incubator program. 

The building also has 255 units of “100% affordable housing.” The above apartments were available, since the housing lottery capped last August, to households earning between 40% and 165% of the area median income, said BRP Companies. The apartments ranged from $567 a month for a one-bedroom to $978 a month for a three-bedroom. Johnson-Piett said that the city received over 50,000 applicants.  

Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso said he was excited to see the market in a new, permanent building that celebrates Caribbean culture and will also have incubator space to support new small businesses. “I can’t wait to go and try some doubles and roti!” said Reynoso.

Senator Kevin Parker said that the market has been responsible for the success of entrepreneurs in the 21st District for years. He commended the rebranding, and said it would be helpful to many small business owners who took a hit during the pandemic. “The market not only spurred economic growth but met the needs of the community. I am proud that they were able to still be up and running during this critical time,” said Parker in a statement.

The building is currently in its soft opening phase as it moves in businesses and residents. Johnson-Piett said once the winter wraps, they have a huge celebration planned this spring. 

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today  by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

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