The Flatbush Caton Market has reopened in its original space, inhabiting the ground floor of a new, 14-floor residential building on the site of its old home, and with a new name — Flatbush Central — that seeks to orient the venerable Caribbean marketplace as a central institution of the neighborhood.
The new, modern site at the corner of Flatbush and Caton avenues opened last week, though a formal grand opening and ribbon cutting will wait until warmer weather, general manager Lisa Thompson told Brooklyn Paper.
Longtime vendors selling items like textiles, jewelry, cosmetics, accessories, and various knick-knacks have moved back into the space that the market operated in from 2001 to 2017, after selling their wares at a temporary location on Clarendon Road for the past four years. The 16,000-square-foot location will eventually be able to support 30 local vendors.
A food hall with vendors selling Haitian, Trinidadian, Brazilian, and Moroccan food, plus one selling items entirely based on plantains, is set to open soon. The grub will later be joined by a “Mangrove” business incubator featuring a shared commercial kitchen, a bath and body care production space, and a media and technology lab. And, of course, there will soon be booze at one of two bars located in the space.
The Caribbean-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry is also set to move its headquarters into Flatbush Central.
Vendors said they were happy to return to their old haunts, though they hope business picks up; it’s been slow at first after opening day coincided with the aftermath of Winter Storm Kenan.
“It’s beautiful. I’m excited for what’s to come later on,” said Selwyn Branker, who owns and operates Flagathon 1, where he sells Caribbean flags and flag-decorated garments, accessories, and merchandise. “At least we have somewhere to vend, that’s the main thing.”
Branker, originally from Christ Church, Barbados, has vended flags since the 90s and has been involved with Flatbush Caton Market since the beginning. The marketplace was founded in 2001 by Dr. Una Clarke, the former City Councilmember and mother of US Rep. Yvette Clarke, who sought to provide an indoor home for various Caribbean vendors like Branker, who up until then had been selling on the street.
The market became an institution in the neighborhood, which has since been officially renamed Little Caribbean in recognition of the area’s robust Caribbean immigrant community.
In a statement, Clarke said that building a community institution fostering resilient businesses was exactly her purpose in establishing the marketplace, and that she’s happy to see the final product.
“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,” Clarke said. “The name of the new site — Flatbush Central Caribbean Marketplace — is fitting because it acknowledges the contribution that Caribbeans have made to Flatbush and East Flatbush. I have long dreamt of and supported the aspirations of the Caribbean people. As a civil rights leader at the forefront of the community for more than four decades, building long-standing institutions rather than promoting temporary programs in our community is of the utmost importance. Because institutions last while programs come and go.”
Many customers had followed Flatbush Caton Market to its temporary home on Clarendon Road, between Flatbush and E. 22nd Street, Thompson said. But the space’s location in the middle of the block was less conducive to foot traffic and walk-ins; being back home at the corner of Flatbush and Caton means the market can reach its full potential.
“Customers actually showed up and supported the vendors but the one complaint was that the location wasn’t on Flatbush proper, so it wasn’t an optimal location per se,” Thompson said. “But here, they’re happy to be back on Flatbush. It’s the major commercial artery right here, and to see some of their old customers, and also to attract some new folks who were not aware of the market.”
Perched above the market is Caton Flats, a 14-story luxury residential building developed by BRP Companies and containing 255 rental units. The building’s “100 percent affordable” housing stock includes units available to those making 40, 60, 110, and 165 percent of area median income, for a total income range of $21,635 to $244,200, New York YIMBY reports. At present, available units are renting from $1,814 per month for a studio apartment to $3,164 for a 3-bedroom. Tenants can expect a magnificent view of Prospect Park from the outdoor terrace.