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Where Magic City Will Rise, Haitian-Owned Businesses Priced Out

Nadege Green
Schiller Sanon-Jules at his vendor space inside the Caribbean Marktplace in Little Haiti.

Schiller Sanon-Jules greets a group of women who walk over to his set up inside the Caribbean Marketplace in Little Haiti.

It’s a Thursday and although it’s called a marketplace, Sanon-Jules is just one of two vendors.

He sells a little bit of everything in this small space he runs with his wife. It’s about 10 feet x 5 feet. Fresh juice sits on a corner table, African print skirts hang from hooks, and leather sandals and art made in Haiti line the floor.

“That’s what I do most of the day,” he said. “Welcome visitors whether they’re from Miami or foreigners."

The City of Miami recently cleared the way for a billion-dollar development project in Little Haiti. The Magic City Innovation District, just steps away from the marketplace, is poised to transform 18 acres into luxury condos, hotels, entertainment and retail. The project is expected to change the landscape of the neighborhood and attract new residents and customers. 

But for longtime Haitian-owned businesses in the area, they wonder if they'll benefit from the changes and  how they'll fit into the neighborhood as it rapidly gentrifies. Many are already being pushed out as commercial rent prices balloon.

Sanon-Jules and his wife can see their old store from the marketplace. They used to rent an entire storefront just one block over. 

“We had the Little Haiti Thrift and Gift store. It was around for seven years,” he said.

Credit Courtesy of Schiller Sanon Jules
Courtesy of Schiller Sanon Jules
The Little Haiti Thrift and Gift Store was closed two years ago after the rent price nearly doubled.

The store was about 2,500 square feet with a small outdoor area, where people used to hang out. Three years ago, the Miami New Times named it the “Best Thrift Shop in Miami.”

The thrift store stocked Haitian art, African drums and a collection of vintage clothing. It also became a community hangout spot where the husband and wife duo would serve lambi boukannen, grilled conch, and invite Haitian bands to play live.

They paid $2,500 a month, then two years ago; the landlord nearly doubled the rent. 

“She said that her rent was going to be $4,800. There's no way we could afford $4,800.”

The Sanon-Jules' packed up their store and put everything in storage.

Every week they take out a small sampling from storage to sell at the Caribbean Marketplace. The new space is cheap—they pay $200 a month, but they don’t do anywhere near the business they did at their old store. 

“If it was my spot I could do more,” said Mimi Sanon-Jules. “Here, I can’t do anything. I feel like I’m in a cage, but I’m still here.”  

This has become a common story in Little Haiti where Haitian-owned businesses are finding themselves priced out of the commercial strips. 

Some close down. Others move out of the neighborhood—to parts of unincorporated North Dade and the City of North Miami.

Right next to the marketplace in Little Haiti is the site of the billion-dollar Magic City Innovation district, the 18-acre project. Other big developments projects are happening all around Little Haiti, too.

Credit Nadege Green / WLRN
Mimi Sanon-Jules says if the can't make her business work long-term in Little Haiti she considering a move.

“I don’t see the light,” said Mimi. “Little Haiti sold out. Haitians don’t have anything."

The developers of Magic City have said that they want to work with the local Haitian business community. 

Magic City did not respond to requests for an interview. It’s unclear what the rent costs will be in the new development.

Mimi says she’d love to reopen her thrift store and dreams of her own vegetarian Haitian restaurant. If she and her husband are not able to make their business work long-term in Little Haiti, the couple is considering a move to Atlanta.

“The way Magic City is going to build I don’t know, I would love to have a spot there,” she said. “I love Little Haiti. Little Haiti is me. I’m Haitian.”

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