A report by Sage Lewandowski for The Press-Republican.
A Jamaican flag blows in the wind over a storefront at 26 Clinton St. The store is a Caribbean marketplace called Island Vybz, and it opened for business on Sept. 5.
Store owners Showayne Telser and Clayton Bingham have been dreaming of opening a Caribbean-themed store since they became friends. Showayne, according to his wife Asia Telser, has been dreaming of being a store owner since he moved to Plattsburgh from St. Thomas Jamaica four years ago.
“Pretty much a week after he pitched the actual idea we started looking for a place to open the store and we found a location and started fixing it up,” Asia said.
The store has a window-front with sand-colored carpet and resembles a beach scene, which Asia said represents Showayne’s roots of growing up right on the beach. The palm trees painted on the storefront window were done by by SUNY Plattsburgh BFA major Winosha Steele, who also contributed to the “Migrations Mural” on Court Street.
The market features popular Caribbean comfort foods such as the national fruit of Jamaica, ackees, hard dough bread loaves and fresh breadfruit.
“We run out of bread and breadfruit a lot here. It goes not even within an hour of us getting the stock in,” Asia said.
The owners source their products, such as gratercakes, tamarind balls, water crackers, rock cakes, cornmeal porridge, pigeon peas, fufu flour, and spices such as jerk and curry seasoning from a vendor in Jamiaca, Queens.
“The community has been steady and very supportive, and basically everyone says that we needed something more cultural in terms of places to buy food,” Asia said.
The business at the store has been consistent according to Showayne and Asia. The extra work that comes with opening a business during the COVID-19 pandemic has been with sanitization.
“Every time after someone comes in, I wipe down door handles, the counter, cooler handles; every surface that customers are touching often. It’s constant,” Asia said.
The store also provides masks for patrons who forgot one.
“We don’t allow anyone in the store if they’re not wearing a mask,” Asia said.
According to Bingham, Island Vybz fills a niche of cultural comfort food that was previously not available to the people of Plattsburgh.
“This is really my first time doing something like this so it was kind of a surprise, but it’s going good so far. It’s been really nice,” he said.
“It definitely brings people together. There will be a couple different people of different cultures in here at a time and people just talk and reminisce about their childhood and it’s really awesome that we are able to open a store that brings that for people,” Asia said.
The name Island Vybz was selected, according to Showayne and Asia, because they sell foods that span across the Caribbean and Africa, as well as American snacks.
“We wanted the name to be inclusive,” Asia said.
The owners plan to draw even more customers by serving hot, traditional Caribbean food within the next two months. Dishes like curry goat and chicken, oxtail and jerk chicken are what they hope to be offering.