It was an emotional scene at European Quality Meats & Sausages on Saturday, as the 53-year-old store closed its doors.
It was a bad day for carnivorous Torontonians on Saturday, as the original Kensington Market location of European Quality Meats & Sausages closed its doors after 53 years in business.
The frenzy of Saturday afternoon commerce was occasionally broken by random bursts of emotion, as both staff and customers were moved to tears over the store’s closing. Customers lined up at the grill to get their last burgers, while, over at the cold meat counter, an employee had to be reminded not to restock. Counter staff hugged and comforted one another between orders.
According to store manager Shalom Koningsberg, the decision to centralize European’s operations at their store in Etobicoke was in part due to the changing population of Kensington Market—specifically, the arrival of people he refers to unflinchingly as “yuppies.”
“Years ago, you used to have families, immigrants,” he said. “They’d come in and shop for the whole family for a week. Now, [customers] come in and take one or two items. A lot of them don’t even want to cook, they just go out and get prepared food. That’s what the area’s become now.”
Koningsberg says that between Kensington’s shifting demographics and his ever-declining profits, he was left with no choice but to close up and lay off his staff.
“The staff all got severance pay,” he said. “The other location is stocked with employees already, but in the future, if we’re going to hire, we’re going to try and hire back these employees. They were loyal.”
One of those staff members is 16 year-old Carlos Vieira, who had worked part-time in shipping and receiving for a year and a half. For Vieira, European provided him with more than just a paycheque; it gave him a chance to get familiar with a new part of the city.
“I like the area. It’s like a whole new style of living down here,” he said. “I live pretty far from here, at Keele and Eglinton. It’s pretty up north. I just like the whole area and how it feels and all the crazy people that I see.”
The closing was also difficult for European’s long-time customers, many of whom had been coming to the store for years. John Lee, a 28-year-old graphic designer and fan of European’s extra-lean ground beef, had been coming to the store for six-and-a-half years. He echoed Koningsberg’s sentiments about the changing face of Kensington.
“It’s the end of an era,” said Lee. “The Market’s changed so much since I’ve been here. It’s lost the personality that made it great, thriving area. Now it’s getting all yuppified.”
Fellow customer Wayne Yee’s connection to European Quality Meats & Sausages runs even deeper. The 64-year-old shopkeeper grew up near Kensington Market and has been coming to the store since it opened in 1959. Yee, who calls European’s chicken sandwich “the best in the city,” admits that he’s sad to see the place go and is worried about gentrification, but is also hopeful for the future of European’s former home on Baldwin Street.
“I’d like to see a delicatessen in there,” Yee said. “Something that has character, like a Schwartz’s [in Montreal]. You need an anchor like that.”
While Yee holds out hope for a deli, Koningsberg just hopes that some of his old Kensington customers will make the trip out to European’s remaining location at Kipling and the Queensway.
“I hope most of them will come,” he said. “The meat is still going to be great, and the service is still going to be great.”