By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
There's a hood-rich apartment on North Miami Avenue in Little Haiti with an HD plasma screen so big that if the curtains are open at night, you can watch a Heat game from the stoplight.
At NE 54th Street, you can smell what must be the freshest laundromat in the world, while over on NE Second Avenue, there are keyboards and voices spilling from a warehouse church service. At all hours, these blocks are filled with a Caribbean hustle of feet, bikes, and cars amid botanicas, restaurants, salons, and trade shops.
And this hive of activity is where you'll find Fifi's Record Store, a tiny shop that has spent the past 30 years selling music in the heart of "Ti Ayiti." It was back in 1980 when Florence Charles, known as Fi, first opened the shop. "My parents had one like it, and I liked music," she says.
Now 63 years old, she's a grandma to the hood. On a recent Sunday afternoon, a young producer takes a break from the recording studio next door and stops in for a Hatuey malt drink. He says, "I grew up here. This shop been here since forever."
Fi typically wears a blue floral-print dress. Her hair is down, smooth skin glowing, and she stands assertively behind the counter while compas tunes flow from the party speaker out front. Asked about the music Fifi's stocked back in the beginning, Fi says, "Skah Shah, Tabou Combo, Tropicana, Septentrional D'Haiti," mentioning a string of bands whose CDs and tapes she still sells today.
The shop's layout is simple. There's a middle aisle about the width of two men. On either side, shelves and counters are packed, floor to ceiling, with products. There are no vinyl records, but plenty of CDs. The classic albums of Shleu Shleu and Le Scorpio share space with newer artists such as Misty Jean and Djakout Mizik.
Aside from the music, you can also pick up church hats, carrot soap, cordless phones, boxer shorts, blankets, towels, funny clocks, flip-flops, peanuts, cashews, and Erectomax. Fifi's even keeps a wall full of Kreyol DVDs. It all points to the churchgoing grande dame's shark-like business savvy. To make it as she has, a lady has to hustle.
We browse the movie selection but eventually go back to the music. We buy a disc by a band named Zobop with a cool vodou drawing on the cover. It costs seven bucks, but Fi lets us have it for five and the promise of two next time.