The View From Flatbush’s Little Pakistan


No major destruction, but no food deliveries, either. Among the shortages: special vegetables flown in from South Asia.

Collapsed awning

Hurricane Sandy ripped down half of Quality Fruit Mart’s awning in Little Pakistan. There was otherwise minimal damage in the area. Credit: AISHA ASIF

The fallen trees, flooded basements and power outages that plagued parts of Brooklyn after Hurricane Sandy were not visible in the Little Pakistan neighborhood along Coney Island Avenue in Flatbush.

“There are not any big trees here,” said 21-year-old Iram Imtiaz. And so the storm “didn’t really affect us.”

But even a little damage can have big consequences.

At Quality Fruit Mart, a grocery on Coney Island Ave. near Glenwood Road, Hurricane Sandy had ripped down half of the store’s yellow awning, sending it sprawling onto the sidewalk, where metal pipes poked out of the brightly-colored plastic.

“It’s because the winds were too strong,” said store owner Mohammad Afzal, who watched the whole catastrophe unfold Tuesday morning, when he replayed it on the store’s security camera. Cost to replace the awning could run Afzal $10,000, he said, because he will need to repair electrical wiring, too.

Afzal, however, did not appear too worried, adding the awning had come down last year as well when Hurricane Irene came through the city.

“These things are normal in business,” the middle-aged Pakistani store owner said nonchalantly.

Of much greater immediate concern for Afzal is the dwindling stock of food in his store.  Milk, which he gets from dairies in New Jersey, was not delivered today because of closed roads and power outages in the state.

“The bread guy was supposed to show up on Monday,” said Afzal, but he never made it because of the storm warnings that day. “Let’s see if he comes tomorrow.”

Afzal bags groceries at Quality Fruit Mart

Owner Mohammad Afzal bags groceries at Quality Fruit Mart the evening after Hurricane Sandy struck New York City. Credit: AISHA ASIF

Most grocery stores in the tri-state area get their fruits and vegetables from New Jersey or from Hunts Point in the Bronx, areas both heavily hit by Sandy. Indian vegetables such as Indian round gourd and bitter melon are some of the items  Afzal gets from wholesalers in Queens that import them via air. Because New York airports were closed, these and other traditional vegetables have run out as well.

“Just enjoy some fenugreek and potatoes (a traditional Pakistani dish),” Afzal told a Pakistani customer who came in with his two children. “These are all the vegetables we have left for now. We don’t know when we’ll get more. ”

Normally, Quality Food Mart sells  $1300 to $1400 worth of groceries a day.  On Tuesday evening, even though many residents were out after the hurricane, Afzal’s store only earned half that amount.

“People think during such days, stores make a lot of money, but that’s not true,” Afzal said solemnly. “In such weather, there is always a loss.”



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