Where It’s At
Originally, the African American traders would crowd the streets of 125th Street in Harlem, alive with tables of crafts, West African clothing and every imaginable piece of ethnic and western bric-a-brac. Now only a few street traders remain, and the other traders are housed in theAfrican Market on Lenox Avenue, whilst afrocentricity has been replaced on 125th street with Mac Donalds and other big name high street corporate retailers.
What’s in Store
The market is snaked in a kaleidoscopic display of vans, tables, incense smoke, and brilliantly coloured imported print cloth. Meander through this fantastic display and you will discover an array of imported goods like Ghanian “kenti” cloth, Kenyan baskets, Nigerian leather bags,Meccan incense, West African trade beads, Tuareg silver jewellery, Ecuadorian HandmadeSweaters & Coats, African Masks, Artifacts, Carvings and clothing. There is also an assortment of “trademarked” American tee-shirts, sunglasses, handbags, and baseball caps, almost all of which are manufactured in export processing zones outside the United States. It’s a great place to see people meeting, chatting and bartering on goods.
A State of (Dis)order
It appears at first to be very disorganised with all kinds of different traders side by side, not like the Bazaars of the Middle East which organised into distinct quarters for different trades. However, like its origins of markets in West Africa, the markets is constructed with informal but logical methods, where members of the same ethnic group sell the same kind of goods. In the larger markets different people from all over the region gather and will specialise in different good – butter, pottery, cloths etc all situated in informally designated spaces. It’s a complex set of traditions and attitudes which are reflected in the Harlem African Market, for example Gambians occupy the north west corner of Lenox and 125th street where they sell beads, leather bracelets and cowrie shells. Further west, people are selling religious books, including the Koran. Further out you’ll meet Nigerians selling all kinds of goods from around the world. No space is strictly “national” in fact you’ll find the caribbeans selling so-called “authentic” African wood crafts.
Join the Party
The market has a festival atmosphere, but it is often crowded with tourists mingling with Africans trading with one another. You’ll hear French and various West African languages spoken, it’s very much like an African quarter within Harlem.
Business is not always too legitimate in the market, many goods are counterfeits at cut price or illegally imported. But if you’re prepared to go with what you find, you can bag a real bargain.
In 1998 a new 1.3 million dollar open air market was constructed to house the increasing amounts of traders. The Market is open 7 days a week from the hours of 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Within the Market’s 115 stores you will find a collection unmatched in uniqueness and quality but you’ll certainly discover a rich and colourful side of ethnic New York.
Cuisines: Everything from Oriental, South & Central American to Jewish and American
Top Dishes: Full fat American Breakfast, delicious bagels, New York Cheesecake
Don’t Forget: To leave the diet at the door
Links to various online e-tailers of Afrocentric gifts and items.
Spaces, Places, and Fields:
The Politics of West African Trading New York City’s Informal Economy