Bridgeway Market is a haven on a block of high fences, weedy lots and plywood-boarded windows; a warmly lit gathering place for this neighborhood in the shadow of the Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino.
Locals typically flock here to buy groceries, lounge around the store’s worn cafe tables and chat up owner Ahmad Alsaid.
But on Saturday, neighbors instead gathered to remember “Poppy,” 69, who was shot and killed Nov. 21 during an apparent robbery attempt at the market. Writing in a small, wire-bound notebook at the front of the store, they recalled a man who gave groceries to customers who couldn’t pay and introduced himself to everyone who walked by his counter.
Now, as the police investigation into Alsaid’s death and another nearby robbery continues, friends and neighbors say they are looking for answers.
“Who could do this to a man who did all that he did?” said Rafi Acosta, 32, a daily customer and friend of Alsaid’s. “This was a man who fed people and looked out for people and gave advice to people. A good man is gone.”
Alsaid earned his neighborhood reputation over a decade and a half in Niagara Falls. He moved to the city and opened his first convenience store on Main Street in 2003, expanding to the current location seven years later, his son Mohammad, 39, said. The store quickly became the town square, of sorts, for a neighborhood that lacked welcoming public spaces.
“Poppy” welcomed neighborhood kids after school, said his son Saeed, 40. It’s part of what earned him the nickname.
He traded wisecracks and political banter with a rotating cast of visitors who hung out at the cafe tables near the pizza case. A Palestinian refugee, self-made businessman and father of eight, Alsaid was known for giving good advice on a wide range of subjects – and for listening to even long, tearful stories without interruption.
Even on holidays, the store stayed open so that “the people,” as Alsaid called his customers, had a place to gather and buy their groceries.
“He made it a community hangout,” said Christopher Thurston, 49, who used to come to the store every night after dinner and stay until close. “If you had problems with your family, if you wanted to get out of the house – you came to the store.”
Alsaid was also generous with his customers, his friends and neighbors said. He gave chips and juice away to neighborhood children, and waived the grocery bills for families struggling to pay them.
Claude Stampone had known “Poppy” a few weeks when he told him, on a late-in-the-month visit to the store, that he couldn’t afford much to eat. Alsaid promptly packed him a box of chicken wings.
“He floated me food a couple times,” Stampone said. “He’s the kind of guy who’d give you the shirt off his back.”
Funeral services will be held Tuesday at Masjid Tawba in Niagara Falls. Until then, Saeed said the store will remain open for friends and customers who want to remember Alsaid.
Sitting at the back of the store Saturday, he gave a wan smile to a gaggle of eight young boys who wandered in. After confirming that yes, he was Poppy’s son, he told each kid to take a juice box and a bag of potato chips, like his father did.
“I want to keep his legacy going,” Saeed said, as the boys ran off shrieking. “He really cared about these people and about this community.”