By Darlene C. Carey
“Welcome to Hamady’s!” Hamady’s Complete Food Center owner Jim McColgan Jr. exclaimed to a crowd gathered at the official opening of the store July 25 after months of anticipation and delays. The renovated grocery store, representing the rebirth of an iconic Flint chain that had been dormant for years, is in the Hallwood Plaza at 2629 W. Pierson Rd.
As the red ribbons were cut at the store entrance, a small crowd erupted into cheers and a passing patron in a black SUV shouted, “Welcome back Hamady’s!…way to go Hamady’s!”
“I had shoppers come in at twenty to seven this morning…I had more guests in our store than we anticipated,” McColgan said.
The opening of the 74,000 sq. ft. grocery store ended an 18-month saga to bring at least one major improvement in food access to the North End community. The store will be open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.
Staff in Hamady red shirts hovered in the aisles, a cadre for the new store of 115 employees, 55 full time.
McColgan Jr., saying he hoped to continue a legacy, brought his family to share in the celebration. “The most important thing was having my dad here,” he said. As McColgan Sr., 88, greeted guests in the produce section, his son added, “We’ve had a lot of publicity, but people still need to come in here and see it for themselves.” Jaime Karn, McColgan Jr.’s older sister, also was on hand.
Randal Thompson, a store manager and steward, said, “I’m the happiest…anything new to help the development. We’ve had a bad rap for a few years with the water crisis and everything. This is the thing we need to sway public opinion.”
Hamady’s goes back a long way in Flint history. It was founded in 1911 by Lebanese immigrant cousins, Michael and Kamol Hamady, who once operated 37 stores in the Flint area.
The company garnered local fame early on for sending truckloads of food to strikers at the 1936-37 Sit-down Strike at General Motors’ Fisher Body plant–the strike which gave rise to the United Auto Workers union.
The chain grew by purchasing 21 closed Kroger stores, along with smaller independents Hutch’s, Vescio’s, and Chatham. However, Hamady Brothers went bankrupt, and in 1989 was sold to McColgan Investment. The chain closed the last of its stores in 1991, the last 13 sold to Kessel Food Markets.
Health and Beauty Aids department manager Travon Henderson has been on the job for just three weeks. Asked why he decided to work for Hamady’s he said, “I’m actually from around these parts, I went to Hamady schools, Michael H. Hamady High School …when we heard that it was coming back, I was like, why not? I’m already alumni, why not be real alumni and come work for the actual store?”
Curious customers in the newly renovated grocery store, formerly a Kroger’s, were eager to share their thoughts about Hamady’s opening in their neighborhood.
Arnold Bea was looking for Breyers ice cream and found it, but said he isn’t sure yet if the store will help the North End.
“It’s hard to tell because they trying to open another thing across the street and I’m thinking now is this going to be competitive or what?”
Bea was referring to the North Flint Food Market cooperative, which hopes to open across the street from the Eagle’s Nest Academy at 2320 Pierson Rd. According to the North Flint Food Market, a cooperative (co-op) is a business voluntarily owned and controlled by the people who use it – its members. The food co-op would be different from the Hamady business model, because it is owned by its community members who invest in the project.
Asked how he thought Hamady’s might impact the co-op grocery store initiative Bea replied, “I’ve got my doubts about it because of the ownership [of the co-op], the way everybody’s putting their money in it. When they start making money, who’s gonna get the money? So right now I’ve got my doubts.”
As customers left the store with grocery carts filled with brown “Hamady sacks,” an employee handed out flyers with coupons and a history of the Hamady Brothers grocery chain. The grocery bag is a resurrected version of an item so familiar in past generations that many Flint residents called every brown bag a “Hamady sack.”
One self-proclaimed “happy customer,” Teresa Jones, who lives within walking distance of the store explained, “Girl, you just don’t know, I live just around the corner over there and this is a blessing. I am so tired of shopping at the local party stores and Family Dollar.”
Jones described the hardship she and other Flint residents have experienced with healthy food access after the closure of five of the city’s last six large chain grocery stores within the last decade.
“Not a lot of people have cars, we could walk if we had to right here you know, but a lot of people don’t have cars and a lot of people have to get on the bus–I wouldn’t carry all this on the bus, you know what I’m saying?”
EVM staff writer Darlene Carey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.