A much-loved deli owner’s sudden death has brought a period of momentary pause and reflection this week to Williamsburg’s busiest corner.
Every day for 13 years, Deli Mart proprietor Ali Al-Humaidi, 38, also known as Al, greeted his customers with a laugh and a smile, making the corner store one of the most inviting businesses on Bedford Avenue.
“He was a very good son, a very good father, a very good brother and a very good friend,” said his brother, Mike Al-Humaidi.
On February 9, Al-Humaidi died suddenly at home from what appears to have been cardiac arrest, said his brother. For three days, the Deli Mart (185 Bedford Ave.) shuttered its doors, the first time that local residents can remember in more than a decade. Taped to the metal gates was a photograph of Al and a small memorial of candles and flowers remained on the sidewalk.
Described by several regular customers and neighbors as a comforting presence in their lives, Al-Humaidi signed packages for residents in the building above when they weren’t home, gave snacks and candy to kids who couldn’t afford to pay for them, and allowed neighborhood pets in his store, even adopting his own cat from an animal shelter.
Christine Murray, who lives on his block, posted a long remembrance letter on newyorksh—y.com, writing about helping Al adopt his cat and giving her a free morning coffee and a copy of the morning newspaper after she lost her job last year.
“Al made the Deli Mart the Williamsburg version of “Cheers” where everyone knew your name,” said Murray. “Al had a big heart. I am gonna miss him. I am gonna miss having to declare that the Deli Mart’s iced coffee was the best on Bedford Avenue before he would prepare my order. I can’t lie, it was always very good. And maybe I will keep saying it as a tribute to Al.”
His brother, who watched the store when Al fell ill and reopened it after the weekend, said he was taken aback by the warm remembrances customers shared with him over the past few days.
“I have a lot of memories. Emotionally, I’m still attached to Al’s memory,” said Al-Humaidi. “Good days, bad days, we had our laughs and jokes. People wanted to talk to him about their problems and they developed a familial bond with him. He always tried to comfort them.”
Both brothers were born in Brooklyn and grew up in Flatbush with their family, who emigrated from Yemen. Now, with families of their own, the Al-Humaidis have settled in Bay Ridge, but call Williamsburg their second home.
“He never had any hard feelings,” said Al-Humaidi. “He always loved to help and he would never tell anybody who he was helping. He loved to joke and he loved to mimic people. He loved his family and he loved his father. He loved everybody.”
Al-Humaidi is survived by his wife, who is four months pregnant, two daughters, ages 10 and 8, and one son, age 3.