February 10, 2018

Ed Hyder, the shopkeeper who won Worcester’s heart

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A Worcester resident and culinary enthusiast recalls her first visit to Ed Hyder’s Mediterranean Marketplace — not the current, gleaming space on Pleasant Street, but the stuffed, tight squeeze on Park Avenue that preceded it.

She’d been curious about the store for years, driving by and wondering what was inside. And though an adventurous cook, lawyer Margaret Guzman, who is now a district court judge, worried she’d be intimidated in an “ethnic” market. “I was really afraid I wouldn’t know what the food was and would be embarrassed to be found out,” she said.

Anyone who has been to the store, or dealt with owner Ed Hyder in any way, can already predict how this story turns out. Stepping into that intoxicating aroma of spices, she easily filled a basket with glorious goods: lemony homemade soup, marinated pitted olives, pillowy fresh pita bread, and some unusual imported cheese Hyder helped her pick out (and remembered the next time he saw her).

She also picked up a new regular stop for her Saturdays.

“And thus began just another love affair with something so essentially Worcester,” Guzman said.

Word of Hyder’s unexpected death Tuesday, Feb. 6, at 67, of cancer complications, broke hearts around the city on Wednesday, after his family posted the news on the store’s Facebook page. The post, which generated a flood of comments and shares — it registered over 2,400 “likes” as of noon Thursday — was accompanied by a terrific image, by local photographer Mike Hendrickson, of Hyder in a familiar pose: cutting meat and grinning wider than his gray moustache in the market he started and nurtured.

For more than 42 years, his genial empire has put smiles on customers’ faces as reliably as it put high-quality ingredients for supper in their shopping bags. But there was something more to the store in Hyder’s hands. He gave people a feeling of welcome, that they were prized, whoever they were and whatever they were looking for.

“Best damn apricots in this city, and always a kind word,” read a Facebook post from Dean Binienda.

We have lost a centerpiece of our city, wrote Meg Kirkendall. “He is a truly successful man — beautiful family, happy and gracious staff, adoring public. He will be sorely missed by all.”

Margot Barnet posted: “Hard to imagine Worcester without Ed’s smiling face, wit, and kindness.”

Well, we will have to. But fortunately, hundreds keep that smile, humor and gentle vivacity in their memories. It is also lucky that the store, in an old firehouse at 408 Pleasant St. since 1994 and recently refurbished, will continue under the ownership and care of two of its founder’s children, Gregory and Miriam. Hyder also leaves his wife, Edna, and another daughter, Alexis.

But it is a big loss. This blow is a reminder to cherish our daily encounters and routines, and all the people who are a part of them. That’s what he did.

Hyder, who hailed from Grafton Hill and was a 1968 North High grad, enjoyed family history, and traced a line of ancestors who tilled the soil or sold groceries. His grandparents emigrated from Lebanon in 1906, and his father opened a store in Worcester in the 1930s.

Hyder, who was also passionate about music and played the drums, learned, gradually and not always smoothly (his father fired him one time), the ropes of his eventual profession by working for his father and uncles.

His shop may be “ethnic,” but it’s all Worcester. And it’s ingrained with its founder’s touch; the jelly beans galore, among sometimes mysterious delicacies, are there because he liked them. The store is one ingredient of what combines across all neighborhoods to make the city richly interesting, and has done so — right under our noses — for years.

Ed Hyder’s Mediterranean Marketplace helps make Worcester home. That’s a lovely legacy.

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