I was a Butcher at the Meat Market of Yore; this is my Story [PHOTOS]

Posted on: June 11th, 2019 at 5:09 am by

Photo: Richard Ovaduke

“…So Richie…waddaya doin’ here…killing time? ” -Frankie “the Hat”

In July of 1977, shortly before the Blackout, and the arrest of the notorious Son of Sam (aka David Berkowitz), I moved back to the city after a five-year stint in Lincoln, Nebraska. I had been invited to stay with a childhood friend, and his fiancé, back in my old neighborhood on the Lower East Side. Before long, I found myself running low on the cash I had saved, so I was in need of employment. My host said he had a friend who “knew a guy” who owned a store in the Meat Market, over on 14th Street, that might be able to give me a job. So I met her, and went over to Yankee Beef, which was right next door to the Old Homestead, on 9th Avenue, between 14th and 15th Streets.

She introduced me to the owner, and he asked if I could drive a truck. I replied “no.” He said that he’d like to help me out, but only needed a driver, and maybe I could come back in a couple of weeks. So I thanked him for his time, and told him I’d return to see if he had anything.

Photo: Richard Ovaduke

During our conversation, a vendor made a delivery, and came over to settle the bill. The owner opened his “freezer-coat” (a quilted coat that extends about a foot below the knee, and is worn when you work in a refrigerated room that is usually kept at a temp between 32° and 38°), and pulled out a large wad of cash to pay. The first thing I noticed was that he had a pistol holstered on his waistband. I then instinctively started to check the rest of him out; he had three additional pistols that I could see. We said goodbye and walked out of the store. My friend later told me that most of the businesses in this area dealt in cash only…so guns were pretty much everywhere…in every store.

Welcome back to New York!

My friend then said she knew “another guy” across the street who might have something, so we walked across 9th Avenue, and she introduced me to a guy I’ll call “Louie.” He asked me if I knew anything about meat; I didn’t, but he said, “that’s alright…you’ll learn quick.”

Self Portrait, Photo: Richard Ovaduke

So I got hired, and was told to report to the store the next day at 8am. My initial intention was to make some pocket change and pay the bills, until I figured out what I “really” wanted to do with my life. So the plan was to just keep the job for a couple of months, maybe a year, then move on.

That didn’t work out as planned. I wound up staying for almost 7 years.

Photo: Richard Ovaduke

The bulk of these photos were taken in 1977 and some up to, and including 1982. I borrowed my then-roommate’s camera – a 1977 model Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic (35mm). These photos offer a small glimpse into that world, and some of the people I worked with.

I can’t say that I miss those days in the market, but I can say I will never forget them…

Written by Richard Ovaduke. All photos: ©Richard Ovaduke

Recent Stories

Lower East Side Children’s Halloween Parade Marches this Weekend

Time to test run those kiddie costumes! The Henry Street Settlement’s second annual children’s Halloween costume parade and party is happening this weekend, and promises plenty of spooktacular fun for all ages. The parade route starts at Abrons Arts Center (466 Grand Street) and follows the beats of the NYPD marching band through the streets […]

Here’s Why DOT Shouldn’t Move Forward with Hated Chinatown ‘Gateway’ Art Design [OP-ED]

A glimmer of hope came over me last month when I was informed that Department of Transportation would delay its presentation to Community Board 3 regarding the controversial Chinatown “Gateway” marker. I was cautiously optimistic that Linda Lee’s “Dragon’s Roar” design would be scrapped due to unanimous local outrage and opposition, and that the selection […]

Lebanese Eatery ‘Manousheh’ Signs Lease for Seward Park Location

The year-long dormancy of the former Grand Street 7-Eleven is drawing to a close. In its place, a familiar Lebanese restaurant. Word on the street is that Greenwich Village import, Manousheh, just signed a lease for the vacated space. We’re told that asking rent had been about $18,000, but final price is unknown. Occupancy apparently […]

Game Over for ‘Water World Amusements’ Arcade on Essex Street

Much like the movie of same, Water World Amusements unceremoniously sunk. The arcade, which opened just over a year ago at 35 Essex Street, is no more. Gaming cabinets remain locked in the dark retail space, while leasing signage dominates the store marquee. That this game room failed to hit is not a shock. Water […]

‘Greens and Grains’ Shutters, While Famous Hakki Readies Essex Chicken Spot

Greens and Grains is no more after a year in business, as Hell Square eats another of its own. Instead, the so-called Pizza Champion is opening a chicken-focused eatery. Hakki Akdeniz, who owns a plethora of pizzerias around the neighborhood, is planning to open Essex Chicken at 115 Essex Street. Just a few doors down […]