«RETURN TO 501 Queen Streetcar

At Parliament: Cinema Ras



John Goddard Staff Reporter

The variety store Cinema Ras takes its name from a movie house near a vast open-air Ethiopian market in Addis Ababa.

To walk through the store — all the way to the back — is to experience a slice of that far-off place.

The Queen St. E. entrance, a little west of Parliament, opens into familiar Canadian territory: chewing gum displays, an ice-cream freezer, racks of sunglasses and batteries. Shelving near the door bears the expected soft drinks, cookies and canned tuna.

But keep going and the store's unusual nature suggests itself.

Overhead hang sports jerseys and men's hats. Grocery carts line up for sale alongside fresh samosas and lamb sandwiches.

Farther still, the selection looks drawn from separate stalls of the Addis Ababa market — Ethiopian coffee in gold foil wrap, Ethiopian CDs and DVDs, flat spongy injera bread made from iron-rich teff, and spice packages containing berbere, mitmita and ground korerima.

Then a doorway appears.

Past a beaded curtain, bathed in maroon colours, several figures sit at four small tables sipping espresso and watching satellite-fed Ethiopian state television, ETV. Two men take turns drawing on a water pipe.

"The job is not going to be boring when I always have people around," owner Khalid Ahmed says cheerfully of his odd store/café combination.

He is 34 now, a Toronto resident for 13 years. He was driving a taxi five years ago when he spotted a building for rent, an IDA pharmacy at the time, one block west of the 501 Queen streetcar stop at Parliament St.

He knew that homeless shelters and public highrise apartment buildings mark Regent Park as a neighbourhood where "anything can happen," he says. But, to him, the risk also suggested opportunity: no enterprise except the streetcar was open 24 hours.

Ahmed established his niche. With his sister Fadela as co-manager, he opened the store as his main business and the café as a source of companionship and security.

"Always people are coming," Ahmed says. "Cab drivers, workers coming off shift, people coming from dawn prayers.

"It's a mini-social club without a membership and everybody is welcome."

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Cinema Ras takes its name from a movie house near a vast open-air Ethiopian market in Addis Ababa.

RICHARD LAUTENS/TORONTO STAR

 

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Khalid Ahmed relaxes in the back-room coffee lounge of his store. Cinema Ras is a variety store on the Queen streetcar line, near Parliament, with a hidden coffee shop in the back.

RICHARD LAUTENS/TORONTO STAR

 

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