Sometime Saturday afternoon, Martin Zimmerman opened the door to his grocery store and rung in his first customer. There was no fanfare, no balloons or streamers, no band or ribbon cuttings, Martin Zimmerman simply opened his doors and let the throng of Saturday shoppers stumble upon his store.
His Freshmart, which would be a fairly unassuming grocery store anywhere else in the city, has raised the ire of many in the neighbourhood because of the store’s close ties to grocery giant Loblaws. The long-delayed store has become a symbol of the change and gentrification that is slowly creeping into the market.
Another added wrinkle in this story is Martin’s own cousin Danny Zimmerman, who runs Zimmerman’s Discount Food and Clothing Store across the street. The two men are Kensington Market fixtures. Their fathers worked side-by-side here in the 1950s and both of them own significant amounts of property in the neighbourhood. That family harmony seems to have disappeared. Torontoist isn’t sure who fired the first shot but what is clear is that Danny tried to get an injunction preventing Martin from using the Zimmerman last name on his storefront. Both stores have even had signs trying to clarify the situation.
Zimmerman’s Freshmart because it carries Loblaw’s owned President’s Choice and No Name products seems to have also hit a nerve with often anti-corporate Kensington Market residents. Late last fall, well known performance artist Reverend Billy even staged a protest of sorts outside the then under-construction Freshmart. It’s a feeling that seems to reverberate throughout the market. When Torontoist asked a few nearby residents if they’d be shopping at the newly opened store many adamantly insisted they wouldn’t, citing the store’s affiliation with Loblaws as their main reason.
It’s a sentiment that Martin finds problematic and tried to bring up with anti-corporate protesters in November. “I asked them if the fruit stores in the market were corporate or private. I mean they sell Dole and Chiquita. How about the bars, they carry Molson and Labatts.”
Danny Zimmerman, who probably isn’t the most objective observer, finds the store problematic for other reasons. “Well, they’re a market under one roof. I never carried spices because of the House of Spices, coffee because of the guys across the street. I get my eggs from the egg lady. They [Freshmart] don’t do that.”
Martin defends his ‘one-stop’ shopping approach as saying that it’ll bring more customers into the market. “People go to European Meat Markets. It’s a destination. They’ll go in and then go the other stores. I’m hoping to do the same thing.”
“People are buying P.C. products and leaving the market. They might as well come in here and shop and help my other neighbours,” he adds.
It’s unclear what kind of effect the Freshmart will actually have on the market. While some bemoan the blatant corporatization of such a unique neighbourhood others defend the store as being a boon, a convenience and, because of its longer hours, maybe even a draw into an area that traditionally empties as soon as the sun sets. One resident put it in more practical terms “If they’re open till nine, they’ve got me” he said.
Back at the Freshmart, Martin looks pretty tired despite it being only three ‘o’ clock in the afternoon. He hasn’t been getting much sleep the days before the opening and the store still looks incomplete. The new paint smell cuts through the air. The deli in the back store isn’t ready yet, some of the shelves are still empty and they’re still ironing out the kinks, some products won’t scan, a cashier or two still need to be trained.
Across the street Danny sits and watches. He greets his customers, many whom he knows by name. A few give him a pat on the back and words of support. “It won’t last,” one man says. But in Martin’s store things are different. Saturday shoppers are surprised to see the store finally open and many walk in. At the cash register, the beep of barcodes punctuates conversation. “Oo, they have ice-cream,” one young woman cooed as she walks in and sees the cooler by the side of the store. While others cradle their baskets and load up on TV dinners and frozen products. This store doesn’t look like it’ll be going anywhere soon.