Spice of life on Brooklyn street as Islamic shops bridge cultures on Atlantic Avenue
On a stretch of Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, the spice trade is thriving.
The Islamic shops that line the blocks between Fourth Avenue and Nevins Street offer thousands of fragrance oils by the jugful — and there’s even one named after the president, Obama oil.
There are about a dozen shops — owned by immigrants from Bangladesh, Yemen, Pakistan and Morocco — along this two-block commercial stretch.
The variety in the shops is perhaps only matched by the variety on the streets.
“It’s really unbelievable,” said Mohammed Hasan, 30, a salesman at Madina Industrial Corp., the largest distributor of natural products in the neighborhood. “It’s really a melting pot.”
His customers are a mix of Brooklyn natives and emigres from Europe, the Middle East, the Caribbean and elsewhere.
Storeowners say strong word of mouth draws shoppers intrigued by the herbal products, such as raw African shea butter and black seed oil.
Mirza Akram, 22, mans the counter at Al Firdous, a small Bangladeshi-owned specialty shop.
“More people are getting into the herbal thing,” he said.
Mohammad Farouk, 38, works at Monir Attar on the corner of Fourth and Atlantic avenues. Farouk, a native of Bangladesh, carries a selection of nearly 300 fragrances that form a colorful kaleidoscope across the shop’s walls.
Recently, Obama oil has become a popular commodity with its red-berry color and spiced apple fragrance.
“People respect the president, so they put his name on the bottle,” Farouk said.