Little Stock To Sell, Few Buyers In Haiti's Capital

Stocking the Big Star Market in Port-au-Prince. Valentina Pasquali /NPR i i

Workers stock the Big Star Market in Port-au-Prince's upscale suburb of Petionville. Valentina Pasquali/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Valentina Pasquali/NPR
Stocking the Big Star Market in Port-au-Prince. Valentina Pasquali /NPR

Workers stock the Big Star Market in Port-au-Prince's upscale suburb of Petionville.

Valentina Pasquali/NPR

Despite the very real concerns about getting food, water and medicine to earthquake victims in Haiti, there are some goods to be had.

From upscale supermarkets to street sellers with baskets on their heads, commerce is reasserting itself in Port-au-Prince, at least for those who have money to spend.

The apex of shopping in Haiti right now is the Big Star Market in the upscale suburb of Petionville.

Stock boys tear open cartons of goods from the back of the store. People walk the air-conditioned aisles, loading their carts with groceries and cleaning products — there's even a display of heart-shaped boxes of candy for Valentine's Day.

The manager, Ervin Bertol, says the store has been open for three days. He is selling the merchandise that was in the store before the quake. After that, he says, there is no immediate prospect for more, because his distributors were ruined.

Shopping in the Big Star Market in Port-au-Prince. Valentina Pasquali /NPR i i

Valentine's Day candy might perk up store shelves, but Big Star Market's distributors are ruined, the manager says — and he might not be able to stay open once the stock he had before the quake is depleted. Valentina Pasquali/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Valentina Pasquali/NPR
Shopping in the Big Star Market in Port-au-Prince. Valentina Pasquali /NPR

Valentine's Day candy might perk up store shelves, but Big Star Market's distributors are ruined, the manager says — and he might not be able to stay open once the stock he had before the quake is depleted.

Valentina Pasquali/NPR

If there is no more merchandise to be had, he says, he may have to close the doors.

The Big Star Market is a big exception to the rule in Port-au-Prince.

Most people in the city have always done their shopping in open markets or with the vendors who line major streets.

That's where food first began to reappear after the earthquake, in the form of produce brought from the countryside — sugarcane, yams and plantains. Within days, people had begun to reopen stands and carts selling all sorts of groceries, from the rice and beans that are Haitian staples to canned goods, pasta, sugar and flour.

Small stands line a street outside the covered market in the Canape Vert neighborhood.

The building itself has cracks, so vendors like Vella Pierre have moved their business out onto the pavement.

Pierre says she was able to buy some goods from a supplier and get back into business two days ago.

Vendor Vella Pierre sorts through her grain supply on the street in Port-au-Prince i i

Vendor Vella Pierre sorts through her grain supply on the street in the Canape Vert district of Port-au-Prince. Pierre says most people can only afford to buy small portions of meal, flour or beans. Corey Flintoff/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Corey Flintoff/NPR
Vendor Vella Pierre sorts through her grain supply on the street in Port-au-Prince

Vendor Vella Pierre sorts through her grain supply on the street in the Canape Vert district of Port-au-Prince. Pierre says most people can only afford to buy small portions of meal, flour or beans.

Corey Flintoff/NPR

Shaded by an umbrella, she pours meal from a big sack into plastic bags, each big enough to hold about a cup.

That's because most of her customers can only afford to buy in small quantities.

It's even harder for them now, she says, because prices have soared after the quake.

"Everything is two or three times higher," she says, "and prices change from day to day."

She says she's giving credit to some people who used to be her regular customers.

The next rung down on the retail chain is occupied by sellers like Claudette Diagen, who displays her wares on a rickety stand in the slum district of Carrefour-Feuilles. Her stock consists of a few shopworn bags of spaghetti, a basket of wrapped candies and some battered canned goods.

Diagen says greedy wholesalers like the disaster because it gives them an excuse to raise prices. The cost of the spaghetti, for example, is two-and-a-half times as high as it used to be.

When many people hear that price, she says, they just walk away and don't come back again.

Among the people looking on is 42-year-old Clemendina, a small, dark woman whose skin has a dry, ashy look.

She has eight children, she says. Her husband was injured in the quake, and the family's house has collapsed.

"We see the food here," she says, "but we have no money. We feel like eating, but we cannot buy anything."

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