Behind Libreri Mapou's pink storefront, tall bookshelves cover every wall and ceiling fans make small red, blue and white Haitian flags wave. Small, dark sculptures of dancing people are on display. The small, Haitian bookstore sells titles in Creole, French and English written by Haitians from the island and its diaspora.
“I feel that we had to keep our literature," says Libreri owner Jan Mapou. "We had to keep our language because Haitians at that time, in order to get assimilated, were just trying to get assimilated. [They were] not being interested in anything that is Haitian-connected, in order for them to live peacefully [here].”
Mapou founded the shop in 1990 to ease the difficulties new Haitian migrants faced in the United States, but now to expand his business he is pinning his hopes on tourism, as well.
Libreri Mapou is located on the 5900 block of Northeast Second Avenue, on the east side of Little Haiti. It is surrounded by other colorful storefronts painted in yellow and purple pastels. Caribbean music pulses from a Haitian record store while two stray dogs fight in the street.
"It looks like ancient Haiti," says Anne-Carine Exume. "I really like the atmosphere."
Exume migrated to the United States after the Haiti's 2010 earthquake. Because Northeast Second Avenue reminded her of home, Libreri Mapou became a place where she found comfort, she says.
“When I came here after the earthquake, I really missed my country," Exume says. "[Libreri Mapou is] the place where I come to be in touch with home. It’s the place I come to get in touch with my culture. It’s a refuge to me."
Since its opening, Mapou expanded his store to house more than 7,000 titles and to display and sell Haitian art. Over the years, he has hosted many cultural performances in a space upstairs.
The atmosphere he has created at Libreri Mapou caught Joann Milord's attention. She is director of the Northeast Second Avenue Partnership, which works to promote Libreri Mapou and Little Haiti’s Northeast Second Avenue as a tourist destination.
“I think that Libreri Mapou is iconic due to the fact that it has been known as a cultural destination for people to come experience Haiti, its history, the people and its culture,” Milord says.
She thinks Libreri Mapou has the potential to charm visitors from all over the world. She calls it an “ambiance," something she believes will draw people to Libreri Mapou again and again.
But Mapou is not alone in his hopes to attract tourists.
Schiller Sanon-Jules owns the Little Haiti Thrift and Gift Store on Northeast Second Avenue. He says he wants people to experience Haiti through the shops on the block.
"When they come to Little Haiti you can get a taste of Haiti," he says. "Whether it be the food, the culture, our tradition, the art. We are trying to establish something very solid."
The traffic Second Avenue generates as an alternative to I-95 and US-1 is encouraging to Haitian business owners like Sanon-Jules.
Ray Sullivan, a Miami resident not of Haitian descent, says tourism to Little Haiti “already is happening” -- he recently took his visiting family around the neighborhood -- but it hasn’t become a well known attraction yet. He thinks tourists should broaden the scope of their itineraries.
“They come from all over because they want to get tan. We get it," Sullivan says. "But there’s so much more to Miami and Little Haiti is definitely one of the jewels.”