During the Spring term 2018 M.D.C. architecture students conducted a study of storefront shops and residential buildings in Little Haiti, one of the most emblematic immigrant enclaves in Miami. Little Haiti’s shops and storefronts served to decode typological transformation of commercial storefronts by analyzing signage, product displays, and materiality. Arguably, these display windows can be conceived both as a type of curated displays and purveyors of social identity. Moreover, engaging the community through its history and culture helped students gain a nuanced understanding about how a culture of display is generated by store owners' sense of place and personal backgrounds. Generally, products are displayed on the sidewalks across the storefronts. This re-purposes the front porch of the typical house in the neighborhood. Each store brings the interior space outside redefining the pedestrian walkway to showcase an eclectic array of merchandise. Thus, the public walkway is appropriated becoming a place for display and socializing as it encourages interaction among clients and passersby (JRV).
The Nameless Store
Buildings in Little Haiti are generally re-purposed structures. A typical example is what I called the “Nameless” store, which served as a restaurant before becoming a household commercial shop. Most likely this building was residential based on the building general interior layout. Indeed, many structures throughout the area showcase the fading graphics of previous business transforming building facades into a colorful signage palimpsests. This store still has the faded name of the former M. Olmight restaurant. It sells an eclectic range of products a practice commonly seen throughout Little Haiti small business including, household cleaning items, products of personal use like toilet paper, pillows and sheets. Inside the store one can find numerous products, ranging from religious figures to clothing items. Some products are usually stacked in containers, shopping cars or oversized trash cans with wheels which are used to display different products in the walkways. Walking around the area I had the opportunity to talk to the owners and the employees and they generously shared with me the importance of being close to the community; a custom that preserves the values of the Haitian culture.
Valentina Barreto 2018 M.D.C. student