Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Saying goodbye to The Main

Still-life, frozen in time
Delray Beach, FL
February 2023
This photo originally shared on Instagram

Montreal lost an institution this week after The Main Deli Steak House (or just The Main) abruptly closed its doors.

I haven’t lived there in decades, but the loss of anchors like this one reaffirms the stark truth that living history doesn’t live forever. The Main’s disappearance is only the latest blow to a place that was once the epicentre of the community where my parents grew up. Increasingly, it’s just a street.

St. Laurent - or more properly St. Lawrence - divides this island city into east and west. Decades ago, it was ground zero for Montreal’s Jewish community, the place where Holocaust survivors set down their first roots in a new land and despite it all built lives out of the ashes of Eastern Europe.

Even as St. Laurent has been a similarly pivotal backdrop for so many other cultural communities, its Jewish community institutions - grocery stores, restaurants, even gravestone makers - persisted. But that’s changed in recent years, as a growing drumbeat of endings - Warshaw, Moishes, Bersons - altered the landscape. The connection between our generation and that of our parents and grandparents is slowly fading to black.

I took this still-life in another deli far away from The Main. Ruven’s was the epicentre of my in-laws’ stomping ground after they retired, the place where they clucked over their grandchildren and made indelible memories of time spent doing the simple things that mattered.

If we’re being truthful with ourselves, deli food is hardly the stuff of nutritional legend. But that’s not the point. More than any other, places like The Main and Schwartz’s and Ruven’s serve as uniquely nuanced oases of familiarity in a world that’s slowly losing them. We remember being here, together, in ways that no modern franchised chain eatery can match. We look back at moments, and we smile because we were lucky enough to have had them in the first place.

As my wife and I sat quietly here a couple of months ago, we could feel the echoes of family and moments and milestones. Long after my in-laws left us, we hold onto these intangibles as reminders of how lucky we were. We never know how much time we’ll have until even these now-quieter places leave us, too.

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