Located on the Upper Lachine Road near Belgrave, Marché Ami is still a welcome food oasis for hundreds, if not a couple of thousand people who live in the ‘South-Side’ food dessert below the tracks in NDG.
We’ve been here for almost 38 years,” said NDG’s Giovanna Cassin, “...and we’re not going anywhere.”
As her store is already a local institution, the district’s older residents still remember the days when Cassin used to help her parents run the local grocery store.
“It was a family business,” said Cassin. “My father was the butcher, my mother took care of the cash, and whenever we weren’t in school, we worked in the store.”
Twenty years ago, during the city’s epic ice-storm, the little store earned the community’s affection when it happened to be one of the few buildings in the city that kept its power when everyone else was blacked out due to all of the damage done to Hydro-Québec’s extensive transmission facilities. Not only was the store able to provide all kinds of necessities – food, milk, toilet paper, diapers and baby food that made all the difference in the world – but they extended credit to whomever needed it because most – if not all – of the city’s banks were closed. Cassin recalls how grateful everybody was and how everybody paid their bills as soon as they could once the emergency was over. Married with children, Cassin began to raise a family while she and Raymond, her husband, continued to work at the family store. Following her father’s death, she began to manage the store, but within a few years, she began to notice that Raymond was making a lot of very basic mistakes – the kind of mistakes that soon began to define Raymond’s early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
“Those were hard times,” said Cassin. “Very hard, but I kept the store open because I had to keep busy.”
While she took care of her husband, Giovanna’s brother and her sons came in to help her run the family’s business. Aside from all of the store’s normal fare, Sylvina Di Marco still serves up her special ‘Gino’ sandwiches ($5.00) that have become a minor legend within the district. As ever, Cassin makes a point of keeping the store open on Christmas eve, Christmas day and during the New Year’s holiday after which the only time she closed it was to take the time she needed for Raymond’s funeral.
Three years later, the store is now called Marché Ami, and it’s still open all day up until 9.00 in the evening.
“We’re a family business,” she said. “We’re still here, and we’re not going anywhere,”