Courier celebrates people living and working on their own terms. Whether by choice or necessity, immigrants personify this better than anyone. This profile is part of a series on first generation founders in our Feb/Mar 2019 edition.
Mohammed Ahmed was called many unsavoury things when he arrived in New York from Hyderabad, India, in the 1980s. More recently, he has been called ‘Instagram’s biggest magazine influencer’ and ‘the last king of print’.
Since 1995 Ahmed has worked behind the counter of his newsagent, Casa Magazines, on the corner of Eight Avenue and 12th Street in New York City’s West Village. He remembers the names of his regulars, of which there are many, and gives out more than a few high-fives each day. In turn, he is treated like a local celebrity.
Inside a tiny store that looks no more than 400 square feet, the 60-year-old stocks a vast selection of titles – over 2,000 at the last count, from newspapers and literary magazines to medical journals and the even more obscure. If New Yorkers are looking to buy the latest issue of a Taiwanese fashion magazine, for example, they go to Casa Magazines, because nowhere else in the city has it. ‘But in the music section, we are currently missing one or two titles,’ he politely warns.
Ahmed visited America for the first time in the 1980s, staying alone in New York for a month. ‘My family were in India while I properly checked out the life here,’ he says. ‘Now it’s tough, especially with this [sic] Trump, but it was easy to get visas back then. So I thought, why not?’
Ahmed owned land and properties in India but left in search of a better quality of life for his family. ‘In India, the system was no good. There was lots of crime.’ Both of his daughters were under the age of 10 when they came over. Today, one of them is a pharmacist, the other is a paediatrician. ‘I’m very proud!’ says Ahmed. ‘Although they would never work in the store now, they visit sometimes. They think it’s cool.’
Ahmed credits his success to his work ethic. Casa Magazines opens at 6am and closes at midnight. He and his two employees – Happy and Ali, familiar smiling faces to followers of the store’s popular Instagram account @casamagazinesnyc – ensure the shop is open 365 days of the year.
Ahmed admits that he worries about the future of the media industry in the digital age. ‘There are maybe only five or six independent newspaper and magazine stores like us left in the city,’ he says. ‘Ten years ago, there were more than 30.’
His lease is up in a couple of years. If the landlord hikes the rent again, he’s not sure if Casa Magazines will remain open. ‘Maybe the store could relocate somewhere else in New York. But maybe retirement is next for me!’ he says. ‘I love my job but I wouldn’t do this again. It’s the kind of job that no one else wants to do anymore.’
Grinning, the ‘king of print’ adds, ‘But we will stick around for a while yet. We take things day by day, selling one newspaper or magazine at a time. Thankfully we have a big collection to choose from.’
To read more profiles of first generation founders, head to the Courier shop to pick up a copy of our Feb/March edition.