It’s an unusually balmy February afternoon in Halifax’s north end when Abdulsalam Mohammad (the junior, not the senior) greets a visitor, mid-delivery of another shipment of imported grocery products. The sight itself is a familiar, even expected one: For the past two weeks, it’s been a hive of activity at the corner of North and Agricola Streets—ever since the Mid-East Food Centre reopened its doors to customers for the first time since September. But what was less certain? That the independent grocer that’s been a Halifax institution for nearly 50 years would return at all—much less in the same location.
Mere months ago, as The Coast reported, it seemed that the store might have seen its final days. The business’s lease was ending. The elder Mohammed, who has owned and run the store for the past 15 years, told Global News last July that the building’s owner was raising the rent—potentially to the tune of an additional $1,000 to $2,000 a month. That, combined with the cost of food (much of which he imported from overseas) was a bridge too far for Mohammad.
“This is life,” he told CBC News. “Up and down.”
By September, the shop’s doors had closed. Phone calls to the Mid-East Food Centre’s publicly listed number went unanswered in early December. Brown paper covered the windows for months.
“Long story short, we worked it out together,” Mohammad’s son tells The Coast. “Now, the relationship is as good as ever.”
Closure offered time for renovations
The younger Mohammad says any worries of a permanent closure were misguided: The plan had always been to expand and renovate—whether those changes happened at North and Agricola or another location. But the public reaction to the Mid-East Food Centre’s temporary closure cemented the importance to the Mohammads of returning. The business, he says, was “flooded” with messages of goodwill. He calls the response “heartwarming.”
“This is not just a business; it’s a cornerstone,” he adds.
Standing at the counter in the same spot he spent years watching his father greet customers by name, Mohammad credits those brief interactions with teaching him the value of conversation: “It was always a joke that the [checkout] line would get long here, because everybody was at that one-on-one level with my dad … it would always end up being a discussion.”
For years, the Mid-East Food Centre lured Haligonians for its lunchtime delights, ranging from marinated artichokes, to spice-filled samosas, to lamb stew, to the citywide staple: Fresh pita.
The younger Mohammad expects that spirit to continue, albeit with new surroundings: The business spent the past five months renovating. A “bit of attention” is how he describes the renovations to the Mid-East Food Centre. All of the store shelving is new. Same for the fridges that stock frozen meals, and the bins that will eventually house bulk goods, once they’re filled again. Ditto for the tile flooring and the overhead lighting.
That attention comes from thinking ahead “for another 20, 30 years” of the store’s future, Mohammad tells The Coast. Or maybe longer. “My dad’s hoping to make this last for 100 years,” he says, with a laugh.