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Compassion in Woonsocket

All I had to do was interview Mike Hotaling and he made me a free sandwich. A big one. Biggest one I’ve ever seen.

“It’s the ‘Bad Boy,’ he said. “what they call a ‘gutter sandwich.’ It’s got everything, cheese, ham, salami, beef, lettuce, tomato. Small’s close to three pounds, large is four and a half, and this Extra-Large Bad Boy, seven pounds. Could feed a family of five. And I invented it.”

Feeding people is what owner Mahmoud “Wally” Hassan has been doing for over a dozen years, as owner of the photogenic Wally’s Market Place in Woonsocket, RI. He’d worked his way from humble origins in Cairo, Egypt and made it to the United States. Here he drove trucks for a while, up to and including the period in which he was establishing his first store, the Broadway Market in Providence, RI. A few years later, opportunities arose to purchase Wally’s Market Place. There he became famous in his neighborhood for his inexpensive food and compassionate spirit.

“Wally does a lot for the community,” says Mike. At first I thought that meant he sponsored Little League teams or gave to the Woonsocket Police Relief Association. But Mike explained: “Homeless people come in once in a while and we help them out with food.”

And why not? It’s not that surprising that a cooperative spirit hovers over Wally’s Market Place. An ex-mill town like Lowell MA to the north, Woonsocket was filled with union activity and other expressions of community throughout most of the 20th century. Even the nearby Museum of Work and Culture celebrates that spirit in its displays and videos. It was the scene of many a labor struggle that spawned powerful fraternal organizations like the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union. Whether they’re aware of it or not, Wally and Mike are probably continuing a historical tradition.

When fellow photographer Matt Temple and I finally left, we were lugging our Extra-Large Bad Boys. He consumed his over three days, but I, alas, am a vegetarian and had to give it away.

Click thumbnails to enlarge


Four images of life at Wally's Market Place in Woonsocket, RI.

Peter Bates

Peter Bates is a writer and photographer living in Florida. He is the administrator of this blog and runs the blog Stylus.

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  1. You are shining a light on some wonderful people, Peter. All I could think after reading and hearing this was shame on Donald Trump for the horrible distortions he has created about immigrants.

  2. Michael Millner Michael Millner

    Thanks for the tip. I’ll check the place out (and tell them I know you) whenever I’m in Woonsocket. If ever.

    • Peter Bates Peter Bates

      Next time we visit, I’ll take you there and introduce you to the guys.

  3. Janet Cormier Janet Cormier

    Good morning all
    Click on the link below to check out the latest issue of Bodega Poject by poet/writer Peter Bates. Peter lived in MA now residing, writing and photographing in Florida.. I really enjoy his stories about small stores run by people with big hearts…
    Share with friends.


  4. Cary Wasserman Cary Wasserman

     A 7 pound sandwich?

  5. Larry Lauenger Larry Lauenger

    You should have been a writer

  6. Nice, Peter. Amazing there’s a sub for $1.99! and one that weighs 7 pounds!
    Your photos are great, the colors and light of a twilight zone in which time stands still. 

  7. Will Keenan Will Keenan

    The Wally’s post is great.    The first textile mill in the USA was near here on this river, the Blackstone River.    This river valley which runs north to Worcester, Ma. was a very important site in the early manufacturing history of the USA.    Rivers like the Blackstone were suitable for water powered manufacturing and this propelled New England into a rapid growth that few other areas in the world were able to duplicate.     Of course, New England was duplicating a path already pioneered in England, but New England ultimately surged path England to become one of the dominant manufacturing centers of the world economy—-the Blackstone River Valley is now in substantial decline, unfortunately.    wk  

  8. The blog post “Compassion in Woonsocket” on HDR Bodega Photo, written by Peter Bates, tells the story of Mahmoud “Wally” Hassan, the owner of Wally’s Market Place in Woonsocket, RI. Bates highlights Hassan’s journey from Cairo to the U.S. and his dedication to serving his community, particularly through providing affordable food and helping the homeless.

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