Calabar Imports is a retail store with imported products. The store and business is owned by Heloise Annette Oton and her daughter, Atim Annette Oton. Based in the up-and-coming revitalized neighborhood of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, we are the source for the distinct, select and unique handcrafted items. We offer stylish, eclectic and affordable fashion clothing, fashion accessories, jewelry, home decor and gifts to consumers wanting to create a unique personalized home environment and accessorize their body.
Our Story and History: A Spur-of-the-moment Start-up builds Steam to become a noted Brand Retail Store in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn:
In spring 2004 Heloise Annette Oton and her daughter, Atim Annette Oton embarked on a voyage to develop an innovative retail store for a town. Calabar, where Heloise lived in Nigeria for about 18 years out of 25 years and where Atim was born. This journey took them to initiate the purchase and collection of a variety of merchandise-mainly fashion accessories and cosmetics. In the months that followed, and as they collected more items, a spur-of-the-moment thought evolved to explore retailing these products in New York rather than in Calabar, Nigeria. Atim applied to become a street vendor for the duo and they participated in various street fairs across Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx and Connecticut. The team were at the International African Arts Festival in Brooklyn, Black Expo and the Harlem Book Fair, both in Manhattan. Customer feedback and merchandise testing revealed to them that the idea was not only feasible but a hit to shoppers. In August 2004, the two participated in the Washington Avenue Street Fair (in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn) where Atim spotted a sign for a store for rent and inquired about it. This store is today the place where CALABAR Imports resides. It is the moment when Heloise and Atim decided to become a company and open a store.
Dumbo and Crown Heights
In June 2011, Calabar Imports experienced a fire at its flagship store on Washington Avenue and moved to The Shops at 145 Front Street in Dumbo. In August 2012, the Washington Avenue store was relocated to 708 Franklin Avenue in Crown Heights. In 2015, we relocated the Dumbo Store to 351 Tompkins Avenue in Bed Stuy and opened a store in Harlem at 2504 Frederick Douglass Blvd.
The name, CALABAR, was suggested by Heloise Oton in a discussion with Atim Oton as they conceived the store. CALABAR, our name, comes from a town in south eastern Nigeria. It is a name of a place in Nigeria. It is a shipping port and a former trading post where Portuguese, Scottish and English traders sailed out of southern Nigeria with slaves and goods. We selected that name because we think of our store as a trading post and also because we lived there for a number of years. Calabar is where the Cross River meets the Atlantic Ocean. Its history is mired in the slave trade. It was a slave port. Calabar, formerly Old Calabar, is a town and port, as well as the capital of Cross River State, in the southeastern Nigeria. It lies along the Calabar River, five (5) miles (8 km) upstream from that river’s entrance into the Cross River estuary. It was settled in the early 17th century by the Efik people. The town became a center for trade between white traders on the coast and Nigerians farther inland.
CALABAR Imports is a trendy, specialty retail and gift store for discerning, quality-conscious buyers of home furnishings, unique crafted jewelry, fashion and gifts sold at moderate prices. The shop is located at 708 Franklin Avenue in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. CALABAR Imports specializes in distinct handmade and imported home decor, tabletop accessories, and furnishings from across the globe especially the intriguing continents of Africa, Asia and South America. Based in the up-and-coming revitalized neighborhood of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, CALABAR IMPORTS is a destination place and a source for the distinct, select and unique hand-crafted items. We think of CALABAR IMPORTS as the place for the home and body. We offer stylish, eclectic and affordable home and body accessories, fashion, jewelry and gifts to consumers wanting to create a personalized home environment and accessorize their body.
CALABAR IMPORTS, the store, and the business known as CALABAR IMPORTS is partnership owned by Heloise Annette Oton and Atim Annette Oton. CALABAR IMPORTS’ partnership begun in December 2004. It is incorporated as Calabar Imports, Inc.
Heloise Annette Oton is a partner and co-owner of CALABAR IMPORTS. A retired educator, she was born in Harlem, New York of Trinidad and Jamaican parentage. She spent her formative years in New Rochelle, Harlem and the Bronx before going unto to Hunter College to study Sociology and Columbia University where she focused on International Education and received a master’s degree from Teacher’s College. In 1962, she met and married E. U. Oton, a Nigerian diplomat, and went off to live and work in Nigeria for about 25 years. In those years, she traveled extensively in Nigeria buying and collecting Nigerian art, clothing and some craft products that she sold occasionally on her trips to the US. She also worked in education as a teacher in a secondary school and finally as a Vice Principal of in Calabar and later ran her husband’s printing company, APCON Limited. In 1986, Heloise returned to resettle in New York and to return to work in social service before moving back to teaching after acquiring a Masters in English as a Second Language from Adelphi University. From 1997, she taught at a public high school in the South Bronx where she remained until she retired in early February 2005.
Atim Annette Oton is a partner and co-owner of CALABAR IMPORTS. She was an Associate Chair of Product Design at Parsons School of Design. Atim was born in Calabar, Nigeria where she spent her formative years in before coming to the US to study architecture at the City College of New York in Harlem and the Architectural Association Graduate School in London, England. Atim returned to New York in 1994 to work with the architecture firm, Davis, Brody, Bond Architects and various other firms in New York. In 2000, she was part of the design team that won the African Burial Ground Interpretive Center. In the same year, she was hired as the Associate Chair of Product Design at Parsons School of Design. She also worked as a design consultant on the Underground Railroad Railroad Experience, a cultural education website from 2000 – 2004; and won an Independent Grant from the NYSCA on her work, the Black Hair Salon in 2002. In 2002 and 2004, she participated as a designer for the 3rd and 4th Annual Bridge Street Development Corporation’s Bed Stuyvesant Design Showhouses. Recently, she has been a consultant to the Bronx Council on the Arts for its Artisan Institute, an innovative idea focused on micro-enterprise for craftspeople in the Bronx. Oton is a designer. Her work has been published in Architecture Record, Design Build, Design Architecture.com, Oculus and Blacklines Magazine. She has exhibited at the Architectural Association, London, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Institute for the Research on the African Diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean (IRADAC), the Bronx Museum of Art and the City College of New York. She has been profiled in Office.com and Diversity.com for articles on Blacklines Magazine.