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

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