ZOLI AND DANNY ZIMMERMAN: THEIR PROFOUND KENSINGTON MARKET LEGACY
Zoltan (Zoli) Zimmerman was born on a tobacco farm in Czechoslovakia, near the Hungarian border, in 1926, where he lived until the Second World War shattered his life. He lost both parents at Auschwitz, and he and his siblings were also interred in German concentration camps until liberation in 1945.
The survivors returned to the family farm, although his elder sister soon emigrated to Canada. Zolly followed a couple of years later, showing up at her door at 220 Augusta Ave. in Kensington Market in Toronto, 1 January 1951. He was able to get a job at a fruit and vegetable shop on Baldwin St. the very next day.
In 1952 he and his cousin, Leslie Zimmerman, rented a shop at 200 Baldwin St. and opened their own fruit and vegetable business. Then about two years later Zoli, in partnership with his brother and two brothers-in-law, purchased an old Victorian house at 208 Augusta Ave. and started a new fruit and vegetable stand.
They were soon able to acquire the adjacent houses at 210 and 212, demolishing them all and constructing a large building in which they sold not just fruit and vegetables but also meat and a broad range of household products. The business took off, and at its peak had twenty employees.
Zoli’s son, Danny, began working weekends at the store following his bar mitzvah in 1973, a practice he continued throughout high school and university, increasing to full-time during the summers. After graduation in 1984 it was full-time year-round.
Then in 1995, when his uncles left the business, Danny and his father became co-proprietors of the supermarket, although the real estate has remained in the hands of Zoli and his three nephews and nieces. This partnership also owns three other properties on Augusta which are rented out to other businesses.
Zimmerman’s Discount Supermarket closed early in January 2015. It has left a huge gap in the lives of we who have regularly shopped there over the decades. Not only were the prices reasonable, but the service was always so generously friendly and helpful that we have, I am sure, developed a relationship with the place that is virtually familial. Their departure is a wrenching loss. They are still connected with Kensington Market as landlords, however, and I am certain will continue to contribute to its vital energies in ways that we will recognize and for which we will always be profoundly grateful.
Dennis Reid, President
Kensington Market Historical Society
The Market Remembers
We go back a long time. I have been in the Market since I was 15 so 34 years now but I have only owned for 2 years. Zoli knew I wanted this business and he goes, “It’s coming Carlos.” He shares everything he knows about that business.I learned a lot from him, his ways. You know you work hard and at the end of the day it’s the business but it’s more than that – it is the trust, your trust, your respect. He told me, “You know Carlos, people come to you because they respect you. When you have their trust you have it made.” It’s sad that he is closing down because he is the most respected in the Market. Zimmerman’s is known all over the place – everyone knows Zimmerman’s.
Carlos Pereira, Owner of House of Spice on Augusta Ave.
Zimmerman seems like he was always here. Everybody that I know or any place that I go, first thing people will ask me, “Is Zimmerman still there?” Everybody has a story about Zoli. He opened up his store at a time when a lot of immigrants were still shopping in Market, when we carried the greatest foods, the best possible foods and Zoli was the place to go for fruits, for vegetables, for meat, later on for groceries. He was a trend setter, everybody was shopping with Zoli. As you know I am also Hungarian and so was Zoli, so we had a lot in common. I came to check on my store at 5 o’clock in the morning and every morning when I drive by Zoli was also there at 5 o’clock in the morning. He definitely had a sense of humanity and a sense of understanding what the Market was all about. Zoli will miss the Market but the Market will miss him just as much.
Tom Mihalik, Owner of Tom’s Place on Baldwin St.
Since it opened over 60 years ago, Zimmerman’s has been synonymous with Kensington Market. It is impossible to think of walking up Augusta Avenue without seeing Zoli Zimmerman busy at the cash while his son Danny greets folks out front.
What makes Kensington such a fantastic neighbourhood is the residents and businesspeople that bring it to life. The Zimmermans have been an integral part of the special neighbourhood that Kensington has become, and theirs is a truly great Toronto story.
I will miss their presence on the street, but their contribution to one of Toronto’s greatest neighbourhoods will never be forgotten.
Adam Vaughan, M.P., Trinity-Spadina
Thank you Mr. Zoli and Danny for being such wonderful neighbours, always so kind and helpful. Zoli have a wonderful retirement, you deserve it. Danny I’m sure that whatever enterprise you go into, you’ll do great. It was a great pleasure to know you guys and we will miss you.
Jose and Cecilia Espinoza, Latin American Emporium Inc.
I am a visual artist, living on Lippincott Street. Every morning, I walk to my studio and window gallery on College Street, and at some point in the day my dog Smokey and I go to Kensington Market. Zimmerman’s has been an important part of the Market experience: a friendly place, full of well-priced everyday necessities, where I was always warmly greeted by Zoltan, Danny, and the two sweet women who worked there.
I remember my first visit to Zimmerman’s, a dozen years ago. While checking out, I noticed the number tattooed on Zoli’s arm and the first thing I said to him was, “my mother’s number is close to yours”. He explained that our families knew one another from their early days as Holocaust survivor immigrants adjusting to new life in downtown Toronto. Since that day, I have felt a kinship with Zoli and Danny, not only because of our mutual histories, but because of my deep admiration for their kindness, warmth, and incredible work ethic.
A loss of history. Between what he experienced in the Holocaust to what he created here in the Market – proves that mankind, when you put your mind to it can do it – move from adversity to success.
Ozzie Pavao, Owner – Casa Acoreana
He was one of the first. My mom used to shop there and lots of moms used to shop there. We didn’t live too far away and they had free delivery then. Everyone had free delivery.
Joe Freitas, Sasmart
For an interview with Danny by Marion Kane, click here.
We’re starting to realize all the practical ways we miss Zimmerman’s: how our grocery bill has gone up; we need more plastic covering for our craft table, and where are we going to find it by the yard? How am I ever going to find those long socks again? Most importantly, we used to be able to send the kids without money to buy things on Fortunato’s tab. We could be sure they’d be well looked after, that they’d have fun while learning how to shop.
I’ve been going to Zimmerman’s for 24 years. I always liked the feel of the place, even back then slightly out of sync with the times. I used to buy what I thought of as extravagances: pickles, bubbly water, jam. There was a kind of diffidence until Fortunato and the kids came along. I’d leave my bags in the boxes at the front, and Zoli would address me formally. Fortunato seemed to get into Zoli’s heart right away and then Emma, who would shop with us in a sling and changed everything. Buying our groceries there became an exchange of greetings, questions about the family. That’s what I’ll miss most of all.
Dominique Russell, long-time resident of the Market and mother of Luca, Bruno and Emma
Why we miss Zimmerman by Emma, Bruno, and Luca
I liked it because they never seemed to mind having kids around, and they knew us really well and I guess we were one of their favorite customers.
Emma, age 10
I liked how Bruno finally got a kind of cereal. Thank you for having nut-free cereal.
Luca, age 6
I liked how I could squeeze through the clothes and see a mirror and it would look like I was walking into me.
Bruno, age 6
We will miss Zimmerman a lot. Thank you for being a commitment to Kensington Market.